Uttarakhand civic polls tomorrow: BJP, Congress struggle to contain intra-party divisions; rebel leaders pose challenge

Rahul Singh Shekhawat | Nov 16, 2018 | 5 min read

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The Congress and BJP are said to be fearful of rising resentment amongst their party cadre, after releasing their candidate lists for Uttarakhand’s municipal corporation elections, to be held on November 18.

Naresh Bansal, BJP Uttarakhand General Secretary Naresh Bansal has suspended 64 party leaders for a period of six years, saying that there is no place for such leaders who are against the party.

Similarly, senior Congress leader Suryakant Dhasmana, says that the party’s discipline committee met with district committees and so far, 56 party members have been suspended on disciplinary grounds from the party.

Although both the Congress and BJP have taken disciplinary action against their leaders for going against their respective parties, the fear of party members turning into rebel candidates plagues them. The civic polls are being held just six months before the general election in 2019, and will reflect mood of voters residing in urban areas. For both CM Trivendra Singh Rawat and PCC President Pritam Singh, the results of the civic polls will be a crucial deciding factor for 2019; a loss would be a major question on leadership.

The BJP is facing pressure to retain all their seats, after winning four out of six for the mayor’s seat, while the other two were won by its rebel leaders - Yashpal Rana in Rudki and Usha Chaudhary in Kashipur. The Congress, now, is trying hard to regain its lost ground for the municipal corporation elections.

After releasing the list of candidates, for the civic elections, the Chief Minister faces a challenge within his own constituency, Doiwala - party leader Madhu Dobhal has rebelled, and has now filed his nomination as independent candidate for the seat.

Noticeably, Uttarakhand assembly speaker Premchand Agarwal and State President Ajay Bhatt entered into a heated argument at Jolly Grant airport a few days ago, over selecting a candidate for the mayor’s seat in Rishikesh municipal corporation. According to sources, Premchand Agarwal was not consulted for the selection of candidate, despite being the MLA of Rishikesh constituency.

Kusum Kandwal, a senior leader from the BJP filed her nomination as an independent candidate after being snubbed by the party, who fielded Anita Mamgain for Rishikesh seat. However, after discussions with senior leadership, she withdrew her nomination.

The Kotdwara municipal corporation seat is highly debated as well. While the Congress has fielded Hemlata Negi, BJP members like Sashi Nainwal, Vibha Chauhan and Sudha Sati have rebelled, and filed their nominations as independent candidates for Kotdwara.

The ruling party seems to be in denial - BJP’s state in-charge, Shyam Jaju says, “There is no chance of party leaders turning rebel, as most of the leaders who were upset with the candidate selection, have now been convinced. Action has been taken against those who were against the party.”

It will be interesting to look at the contest for the highly coveted Dehradun municipal corporation seat, being not just the state capital, but also the oldest and largest municipal corporation from where BJP has won twice consecutively in the last two cycles. The Chief Minister picked Sunil Uniyal Gama for the seat, who will be contesting against former Congress cabinet minister Dinesh Agarwal and Rajni Rawat, a transgender woman from Aam Aadmi Party.

Things aren’t any better in the Congress camp; they have been facing a tough time regaining lost ground in Uttarakhand, as multiple leaders from the party have filed their nominations as independent candidates.

In Haldwani, Lalit Joshi filed his nomination as an independent candidate, after the Congress fielded Sumit Hridyesh for the seat. Joshi, later, after holding discussions with senior party leaders withdrew his nominations.

Strangely, the Congress camp hasn’t been actively campaigning, despite senior leaders like former President Kishore Upadhyay, Rajya Sabha MP Pradeep Tamta and former speaker, Govind Singh Kunjwal.

Kishore Upadhyay says that he has not received any direction or order from the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee), and that he has been campaigning on his own. Anugrah Narayan Singh, AICC in-charge Uttarakhand, says, “Minor differences are there in every party and after visiting Kumaon Garhwal and other places, I can say that people are not happy with the BJP, and this time Congress will win the civic elections.”

Political commentator Surendra Singh Arya, says politicians who contest for positions of major or chairman in the municipal corporation, eventually go further and contest at the state Vidhan Sabha level as well - “Many bigwigs in the state have come through the panchayat system, which is why the infighting in parties increases during ticket distribution,” he said. It is considered that various established leaders from both Congress and BJP first held positions at a civic level. State Finance Minister Prakash Pant had been a member of municipality Pithoragarh, while Education Minister Arvind Pandey was the chairman of Bajpur municipality. In the Congress, former MLA Sarita Arya and present State President of Mahila Congress Uttarakhand, was also chairman in the Nainital municipality.

Campaigning for the municipal corporation elections ended on November 16, and 24 lakh citizens are eligible to vote on November 18.

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