The crisp Himalayan air seems to have brought along for good a refreshing insight into politics among voters in Uttarakhand. As you leave the political scenario in Uttar Pradesh — riddled with the clan, dynasty and religion-ridden election campaign —and enter the hill state, it is a happy feeling to see canvassing being done for the right reasons and in the right way. Development is the primary issue here in Uttarakhand and little else matters as votes get cast tomorrow, February 15.
The Bhimtal constituency in Kumaon region in the eastern part of the state may be witnessing loud clamour by big parties like the BJP and the Congress, but people aren't so sure about the two behemoths. "Ram Singh Bisht Kaira deserved a party ticket," says Dhyan Singh Bisht, a farmer from Nathuakhan village in the constituency, talking about the Congress rebel. Kaira, a 43-year-old social activist, was associated with the Congress for long and people were sure that he would get the Congress ticket. He was, however, sidelined in favour of Dan Singh Bhandari, the sitting BJP MLA from Bhimtal who switched to the Congress, thus playing a part in saving the Harish Rawat government. As a gift, he got the Congress ticket from Bhimtal.
"Kairaji got so many jobs done for the locals, even on his own expenses at times. Everyone likes him. Now he is far ahead of everyone else as an independent candidate," adds Dhyan Singh. The greatest upswing in Kaira 's popularity took place a year back when he got five illegal liquor shops sealed in the constituency.
Now, the independent candidate seems to be on more solid ground than the BJP's Govind Singh Bisht as well. Govind Singh withdrew his claim from the Nainital constituency to facilitate the nomination of another BJP leader Yashpal Arya's son, Sanjeev Arya. The senior Arya then returned the favour and ensured that Govind Singh gets the BJP ticket from Bhimtal. "But the 'Kaira wave' here is what should have been used by the BJP," believes Dhyan Singh.
What is happening in Bhimtal is enough to make parties wake up to the reality that the electorate in Uttarakhand has reached such high levels of analysis that even if there is a Modi wave, the perceived injustice that has been done to Kaira will not get subsumed in that wave.
The wish list of the work that has to be done in their localities is etched clear in the minds of the electorate. Kaira has to get another 35 odd illegal bhattis, where local liquor is manufactured, sealed in Bhimtal. "He also has to come good on getting a degree college set up in Bhimtal or start a factory that would ensure employment of at least 400 workers," points out Girish Belwal, a dhaba owner on the Bhimtal-Bhowali road, who happens to be a graduate in history.
Actually, all the political huddles at various tea and Maggie shops in the hills involve discussions about a hospital here, a college there; the need for more roads, and less stone quarrying; and of course, the alarming rate of denuding jungles. In short, the elections are set to be fought over all the right issues that should be be thought of and invested in during a democratic election.
There is no whining about caste significance or personal issues of a candidate. The vote is meant for one who is seen to be responsive and who would get the constituency-specific requirements completed.
Sixty five kilometres from Bhimtal, Chief Minister Harish Rawat would have been gaping at the worst possible defeat of his political life had he decided to contest from Dharchula near Ranikhet. People openly voice their disappointment with him. "I cannot think of even one thing that he has done for this region this time," says Deepak Singh Bisht, the manager of a Delhiite's cottage at Majkhali village in Ranikhet constituency. "Rawat has been too busy doing clever machinations to save his government. And this has been his biggest undoing, not being able to keep his flock together. It forces the voter to search for your other omissions."
The local sentiment is mostly concentrating on the development issues in the state. "The creation of Uttarakhand hinged on a strong emotion that we were being sidelined in the mainstream of development. We are development obsessed," says Jaipal Thapli, a contractor at Mussoorie, the prominent hill station in Garhwal, the western part of Uttarakhand.
In their quest for a developed state, the digital India-obsessed Prime Minister Modi is appealing well to the forward-looking electorate in Uttarakhand. The Congress CM is busy exposing the 'Modi myth' but he is finding it tough to ward off the voter's calm emotion of giving a chance to Modi — not BJP, but Modi.