harish rawat
harish rawatIANS

Uttarakhand is all set to go to polls on February 15 this year with the Congress and the BJP ready to give it all to win the electoral fight in the state with 70 seats in the assembly. Uttarakhand is the only state, among the five going to polls, where there is a direct fight between the two parties.

The assembly elections in 2012 saw the Congress narrowly winning the polls with 32 seats in the assembly while the BJP lost with 31 seats. In 2007, BJP had won with 32 seats in the assembly while Congress lost having won 30 seats.

The Congress desperately needs a win to boost their Lok Sabha campaign in 2019 while the BJP wishes to continue its winning streak by overthrowing the Harish Rawat-led Congress government in the state.

The Congress has decided to continue its alliance with the Progressive Democratic Front, which includes UKD, BSP as well as three independents. Also, only one ticket will be given to one family. The Congress has also roped in poll campaign strategist Prashant Kishor to devise their election strategy. Kishor, also called the Digital Chanakya, was the man behind the BJP's massive victory in the 2014 General Election and Nitish Kumar's win in Bihar in 2015.

The India Today-Axis Opinion Poll shows that it would be tough for the Congress to retain its power in the state. The poll has given 41-46 seats to the BJP and 18-23 seats to the Congress while minor parties like the BSP and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and the Independents could get two to six seats. According to the poll, BJP's BC Khanduri is the most preferred candidate for the chief minister's post.

In the run-up to the elections, the BJP is likely to raise the issue of demonetisation and how it has benefited the country along with the party's resolve to weed out black money from the country. It is also likely to attack current chief minister Harish Rawat for his involvement in corruption cases, including a sting operation which showed him buying votes to make Congress win the 2017 polls.

Interestingly, the opinion poll stated that 79 percent of the people of Uttarakhand did not think the currency ban was a bad decision while 53 percent said that they had not faced any trouble due to the note ban.

Uttarakhand, a state created out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000, faced a political crisis when nine MLAs of the Congress Party led by Vijay Bahuguna, along with 27 BJP MLAs, rebelled against Rawat and requested the governor to dismiss the Congress government. Rawat was removed from the CM's post for a short duration and President's Rule had been imposed in the state in March 2016 before he won the trust vote in the floor of the House. The rebel MLAs later joined the BJP. President's Rule was also revoked in May 2016.

The BJP had also accused him of being involved in a liquor scam and loot during the floods in 2013. The party accused him of changing the state's excise policy to help private firms. The state is still recovering from the after-effects of the devastating floods. Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee President Kishore Upadhyay had recently written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to provide Rs 4,000 crore for relief and assistance to the people affected by the floods.

With problems like inflation, natural disasters, corruption, illegal mining and unemployment plaguing the state, development seems to be the top agenda of both parties during the election campaign besides, of course, demonetisation and black money.

Rawat had also shot a letter to PM Modi demanding that environmental norms be relaxed for Uttarakhand as was done for other Himalayan states and Western Ghat Eco Sensitive Zone in Maharashtra. He had also asked for a compensation of Rs 1,000 crore to cover the losses incurred by the state due to demonetisation.

Rawat, whose popularity among the people would be put to test, is expected to play his sympathy card after BJP tried to overthrow his government with the help of his own party members and was also slammed by the Supreme Court for mocking the Constitution. Rawat won the trust vote in the floor of the House but it remains to be seen whether he will win the trust vote of the people of Uttarakhand.

BJP, which seems to be the favourite in the elections, would still want to exploit the reach of 'Brand Modi' - effective to a certain extent despite having been in power for two and a half years. The local leaders of the party would also be required to make a comeback. The BJP would also have to face the issue of demonetisation since the move has caused trouble to people and is likely to continue for the next few months.