Uttarakhand: BJP’s ‘Double Engine’ Govt Faces Uphill Task in 2022 Assembly Polls
Dehradun: A recent survey done by C-voter and a television channel rated Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat amongst those having poorest ratings among Chief Ministers in the country, while another survey by another television channel did not even mention him as a popular Chief Minister.
The survey findings have given enough ammunition to Opposition parties to hit back at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and particularly at it’s incumbent Chief Minister for allegedly betraying the massive mandate given by people of the state to BJP.
With only 12 months to go for the Uttarakhand Assembly elections scheduled to be held in February 2022, the ruling BJP state government, headed by Chief Minister Rawat, has nothing much to claim as its achievements on the ground.
The BJP came to power with an unprecedented mandate by defeating the Congress by winning a record 57 seats out of total 70 Assembly seats in the last state elections held in February 2017. Trivendra Singh Rawat, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ‘pracharak’ was chosen as Chief Minister due to his close proximity with the then party president and current Union Home Minister, Amit Shah.
Rawat was part of the Shah’s organisational team and also remained in-charge of party affairs in Jharkhand. There were consternations at his elevation within the party but none had the courage to question the selection by the present dispensation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Being a hill state, Uttarakhand faces peculiar problems of inaccessibility of basic infrastructure of health, education, power and roads. In the past, both Congress and BJP had taken turns to rule the state since its formation in November 2000.
In 2017, BJP came to power on the claims of providing a “double engine” government with the support of BJP-led government at the Centre. But that has not happened. Most of the promises made by the party and the Chief Minister himself remain unfulfilled.
Trivendra Singh Rawat after taking over the reins of the state, himself announced a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ toward corruption, but his own reputation got tainted when the Nainital High Court, hearing a petition regarding transfer of money in the personal accounts of his close ones, asked Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to look into the matter.
Instead of facing a probe, the state government rushed to the Supreme Court to get a restraint order against the High Court verdict. Interestingly, the state government, which would be completing four years in office, has not yet appointed a Lokayukta in the state, with more than 1,500 complaints waiting to be heard.
“ Out of total 2,266 announcements of development works made by the Chief Minister himself from March 18, 2017 till November 9, 2020, work on only 1,300 announcements could be started, out of which 549 works are still to be completed,” alleged Ravinder Singh Anand, a spokesperson of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)of the state.
Health services in the state are in a dismal state. There is acute shortage of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and infrastructure in the hills and cases of child delivery on the roads have been reported. In 2019, the state had slipped to the 17th spot among 21 states in the health services ranking done by NITI Aayog.
“On an average, during the past one year, a woman has lost her life every month during childbirth in the state. The effort of the state government to revive the health system through PPP (public-private partnership) mode has utterly failed,” claimed Indresh Maikhuri, state secretary of Communist party of India (Marxist-Leninist). “The entire focus of the state government has been on liquor and mining from river beds to earn revenue,” he added.
The situation of the education sector is equally dismal, with government schools closing down at a rapid rate due to apathy of the state government. “More than 3,000 government schools have closed down over the years and the focus is on RSS-run Shishu Mandirs, said Maikhuri.
Uttarakhand, which suffered massive damage in the 2013 deluge, is yet to recover with people in the hills clamouring for construction of roads, culverts and bridges. The people of Tharali Assembly segment have been holding a protest dharna for past two months, demanding widening of the 19- km Nandprayag-Ghat road. They formed a 19-km human chain and even took out a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ (Tricolour March) on January 26 (Republic Day), but to no avail.
The much publicised mega efforts to invite industrialists and entrepreneurs by holding an industrial summit in 2018 also failed to kick-start the much advertised industrial growth and investment in tourism, horticulture, information technology and organic farming sectors. It was claimed after the industrial summit of 2018 that investments worth over Rs 1.25 lakh crore are likely, but the results have not been encouraging.
“The state government cannot show even an investment of a few thousand crore,” said Suryakant Dhasmana, vice-president of Congress in Uttarakhand.
In addition, not everything is hunky dory within the ruling BJP in Uttarakhand, as Chief Minister Rawat is running a truncated ministry since the past four years. Out of the total 11 ministerial slots, the state has had only nine ministers since 2017. The number further reduced with the death of State finance minister Prakash Pant in 2019.
Most of the important portfolios, such as power and health, are being held by the Chief Minister himself and a ministry expansion is unlikely as of now.
Out of total eight ministers, five -- Satpal Maharaj, Yashpal Arya, Harak Singh Rawat, Rekha Arya and Subodh Uniyal -- from Congress who jumped on to the BJP bandwagon led by former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna in 2016. Maharaj was the only one who joined BJP in 2014.
All these former Congress ministers are now said to be miffed with the alleged dictatorial style of the Chief Minister. Most of them feel humiliated but have no shoulder to cry upon in the party. Such tussles within BJP have adversely affected the cohesiveness of the state government.
“The Trivendra Rawat government is most stable and performing government with a clean image. The decision to make Gairsain as the summer capital of the state, as per the aspirations of the people, and holding the coming budget session at Gairsain, shows the resolve of the Chief Minister,” claimed Devender Bhasin, vice-president of the state BJP.
Meanwhile, the BJP is banking on the all-weather road connecting the famous Char Dham temples and the Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail project, which are mainly Central government projects, for its fortunes in the Assembly polls.
However, the state government recently faced a setback when its decision to denotify the Shivalik elephant reserve for expansion of the Jolly Grant airport was struck down by the Nainital High Court.
With an eye on state elections, and with abundant resources, party discipline, ground-level support from RSS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal among the dominant upper castes in Uttarakhand, the BJP has already started making preparations. Chief Minister Rawat, who was confined to the comfort of his official residence after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, has begun touring the state.
But, Uttarakhand BJP chief Banshi Dhar Bhagat has some advice for his own party legislators. He has apparently told them that even Prime Minister Modi would not be able to make them win the next elections if they fail to solve the problems of the common people.
The writer is a Dehradun based freelance journalist having experience of over three decades working with 'The Indian Express' and 'The Tribune' at Chandigarh, Amritsar, Meerut, J&K, Haryana and Uttarakhand.
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