Uttarakhand has remained a bastion for BJP ever since its formation in 2000 but the hilly state known for its reputation as 'Devabhoomi" or home to famous Hindu pilgrimage centres, reversed the party's prospects whenever the ground reality changed.
Despite BJP's stronghold on all the five Lok Sabha seats of Uttarakhand in 2014 elections, this time BJP is facing tough battle as anti-incumbency has taken deep roots outweighing the saffron party's grip on state politics. The state is also facing the twin issues of unemployment and migration.
As majority of the families in Uttarakhand have sent their sons to serve the Army or para-military forces, every time there is an attack on jawans anywhere, at least one coffin will reach the Garhwal hills. Ironic, all those who could not join security forces have little to look forward to in terms of livelihood in the state.
Riding high on surgical strike on Pakistan, BJP is hoping that its pro-Modi wave of 2014 will return to the state. But the Congress is keen to offset BJP highlighting the perennial unemployment among the youth in the state though the state has national highways, educational institutions and military training centres.
Several road shows held by TV channels such as HNN have highlighted the anger among the jobless youth, especially from urban centres of Dehradun, Haridwar, Nainital and Pauri. No political party can be squarely blamed for the state's backwardness, which is hugely dependent on nature and tourism, unless IT and other new industries are given due importance in the state.
2019 Election Fever
Amid highly pitched debates in the state, both Congress and BJP have played their cards safely this time. Some high profile candidates in frey include former Congress chief minister Harish Rawat, former BJP chief minister Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank besides daughter-in-law of erstwhile Tehri royal family Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah.
Surprisingly, in Pauri Garhwal, BJP heavyweight BC Khanduri's son Manish is pitted as Congress candidate against BJP nominee Tirath Singh Rawat. The senior Khanduri, also a former army general was Uttarakhand chief minister twice, from March 2007 to June 2009 and from September 2011 to March 2012.
He had won all the general elections in Garhwal amid a familiar cry during the campaign -- 'Khanduri zaroori hai'. This time, younger Khanduri will be there in the constituency but Congress may wield the slogan to garner support of the voters underlining the clean track record of senior Khanduri. Manish, who worked for his father's win in the last elections may pose a tough challenge to BJP's nominee Tirath Singh Rawat this time.
Banking on a fresh look of younger leaders as well as party veterans, the Congress party hopes Manish Khanduri, who is an MBA from Kellogg with work experience in global IT multinationals such as CNN and Facebook, will provide an answer to the youth of the state who are in dire need of jobs and livelihood. Besides being a younger face from the IT sector with global experience, the younger Khanduri is likely to imbibe his father's legacy in Pauri Garhwal and at the same time.
In fact, Congress has fielded former state chief minister Harish Rawat to regroup the lost Congress base in the state as it is hoping on creating a new wave under Rahul Gandhi, similar to Modi wave that swept the state in 2014. The NYAY or Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme and three-year grace period for any startup may tilt the scale for the Congress Party in the state. Nonetheless, the Congress is keen on a positive vote in the state this time.
The BJP is banking on the terror strike in Pulwama by making it an emotional issue in all the five Lok Sabha seats of Uttarakhand, from where a large number of people have joined the country's defence services. But Congress may raise the question about the removal of Senior Khanduri as the chairman of the standing committee on defence after he raised questions on the Modi government's defence preparedness last year. Already BJP has given up on general Khanduri's legacy in the state, with no posters featuring him during the elections.
With Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and if possible, Priyanka Gandhi scheduled to visit the state for the electioneering early next month, it is likely that the swing vote in favour of Congress may be decisive in Uttarakhand unless BJP throws in few more surprises from space.