Independents bag more seats than BJP + Cong in Uttarakhand civic polls
Rahul Singh Shekhawat
Dehradun: While both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are expressing satisfaction with the result of civic body polls in Uttarakhand, it is the independent candidates that stole the show.
Among the top posts in civic bodies, BJP bagged 34, Congress 25 and Independent candidates claimed 23, neck to neck with the two national parties. Independents won more than half of the Wards across the state while the candidates of both the BJP and the Congress faced defeat in the home constituency of many a tall leader. These two are the biggest parties in the hilly state. Until 2017 Assembly polls, when the BJP stormed to power by winning 57 of the 70 seats, Uttarakhand had Congress government.
Eighty-four of 92 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in the state went to polls on Sunday, November 18. These included seven city corporations (Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Kotdwar, Haldwani, Kashipur and Rudrapur), 39 Nagar Palikas and 38 Nagar Panchayats. ULB polls in Uttarakhand require a voter to not only elect a corporator for their ward but also the mayor or chairperson of the local governing body.
Voting for one ULB---Pokhri Nagar Panchayat in Chamoli district---will be held again. State Election Commissioner Chandrashekhar Bhatt ordered re-polling when it was brought to his notice that ballot papers used at one polling booth there did not bear the signature of the election officer concerned.
In the remaining 83 ULBs, BJP candidates won the ULB head's post in 34, Congress in 25, independents in 23 and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in one. Candidates of Samajwadi Party (SP) and regional outfit Uttarakhand Kranti Dal couldn't win the top post in any civic body. Among 1,063 wards (result for one withheld), independent candidates won 551, the BJP won 323, Congress won 181, BSP won in four, Aam Aadmi Party two and SP and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) won a lone seat each. Thirty-six of these wards had a lone candidate.
In the biggest city corporation, Dehradun, the BJP won for the third time in a row. Its mayoral candidate Sunil Uniyal Gama beat Congress's three-time MLA and former minister Dinesh Agarwal. Gama polled 1.62 lakh votes and beat Agarwal by 35,632 votes.
Besides Dehradun, three other city corporations had the BJP in power. Now, five will have a BJP member as their mayor and two will have a Congress mayor. The mayor post of Haridwar city corporation was clinched by Congress candidate Anita Sharma in the home ground of Cabinet minister Madan Kaushik. Usha Chaudhary clinched the Kashipur municipal corporation
In Haldwani city corporation, BJP's Jogendra Rautela (64,793 votes) beat Congress's Sumit Hridayesh (53,939 votes) in the race for the mayor's post and got elected for the job for the second straight term. Sumit is the son of Opposition Leader in Assembly and former state minister Indirya Hridayesh, who campaigned in Haldwani aggressively for these polls.
Kotdwar, where the mayor's seat was reserved for a woman, saw a battle between the better halves of a BJP MLA, Dalip Rawat, and a former Congress minister, Surender Singh Negi; the latter's wife won. Though Kotdwar is the home constituency of state minister Harak Singh Rawat, the BJP candidate here came third.
Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat's Assembly constituency of Doiwala saw BJP candidate Nagina Rani, the CM's own pick, lose the election for Nagar Palika chairperson to the Congress candidate. In BJP state president Ajay Bhatt's home district of Almora too, it is the Congress that won the post of Nagar Palika chairperson. In Bhatt's home constituency of Ranikhet (he failed to win in 2017 Assembly poll), the BJP candidate failed to win the Nagar Palika chairperson's seat in Chiliyanaula. In Haridwar, state minister Madan Kaushik--considered close to the CM--couldn't secure victory for the BJP candidate in the mayoral election. Former MLA Yashpal Benam of the BJP did manage to get elected as the chairperson of Pauri Nagar Palika.
Bhatt told FirstPost he had already predicted that the BJP would emerge numero uno in these elections. He did concede that the party could have won more seats in Nagar Palikas and Panchayats. He said they would analyse and figure out where they were found wanting.
BJP MP from Haridwar and former Uttarakhand CM Ramesh Pokhriyal claimed that the ULB poll results favour the BJP. He too said the party could have won many seats where independent candidates won. He said he didn't get why the Congress was celebrating the victory of independent candidates instead of introspecting.
Uttarakhand Congress president Pritam Singh said their party did well with the limited resources that were at their disposal. He noted that the party snatched Haridwar municipal corporation from the BJP and said the party's victory at Nagar Palika and Panchayat levels have punctured the BJP's tall claims. Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Harish Rawat, currently a national general secretary, said these results are a red signal for the BJP. He said the party did try to use prime minister Narendra Modi's name to hide the state government's failure but the electorate has made itself heard.
Political analyst Surendra Singh Arya said these results, where people elected more independent candidates than BJP-Congress candidates combined, have given an opportunity to both the parties to introspect. He said the election result shows that not only people are questioning the state government's claim of zero corruption-governance but also have exposed the Congress's failure to capitalise on anti-incumbency sentiment owing to mismanagement.