Emphatic victory

Print edition : June 07, 2019

BJP MPs from Uttrakhand Ramesh Pokhriyal (centre), Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah and Tirath Singh Rawat at Parliament House in New Delhi on May 25. Photo: Atul Yadav/PTI

Former Chief Minister Harish Rawat, the Congress’ most formidable candidate, but lost by a huge margin. Photo: Virender Singh Negi

A well-oiled organisational machinery and the absence of a credible alternative carry the day for the BJP.

THE BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY (BJP) MADE A clean sweep of all five parliamentary seats in Uttarakhand, allaying the apprehensions in some sections of the party during the last rounds of campaigning in early April, especially in relation to the effectiveness of the “muscular nationalism” narrative. The party also garnered a stunning vote share of 61.01 per cent, up from the 55.93 per cent it got in 2014. The hill State bucked its own past pattern wherein the five seats shifted between the Congress and the BJP in successive elections. The Congress’ defeat was accompanied by a drop in its vote share, from 34.40 per cent in 2014 to 31.40 per cent in 2019, which put it behind the BJP’s vote share by a whopping 30 percentage points.

The BJP candidates won with huge margins, upwards of 2,30,000. The biggest win was in the Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar constituency, where the principal opponent was the former Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat. The BJP’s Ajay Bhatt won with a margin of 3,39,096 votes. A senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activist based in Dehradun told Frontline that Ajay Bhatt’s win encapsulated the most important factor behind the BJP’s victorious march in Uttarakhand: “The core factor was the supreme organisational efficiency and masterly coordination the BJP and its associate organisations in the Sangh Parivar were able to bring to each constituency. Harish Rawat was considered the most formidable and winnable candidate of the Congress in the State. When the national leadership of the BJP realised this, the Sangh Parivar machinery in this seat was given greater preference in terms of resources and outside support. This was made full use of, and the result of that is for all to see.”

The senior RSS activist also cited the case of Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah, the party’s candidate in Tehri Garhwal, who faced strong anti-incumbency as the sitting MP. Additional resources and manpower were pumped in and campaigning reached every corner of the constituency.

The party won by over three lakh votes in Garhwal, where the fight was perceived to be a close one. The Congress candidate was Manish Khanduri, son of former BJP Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri, who is still with the saffron party. The general perception was that the junior Khanduri had the blessings of his father as the former Chief Minister was not happy with the way he was being treated by the BJP’s State and central leadership. Once again, these factors were taken into account, and the BJP-Sangh Parivar machinery moved in to pave the way for the smooth victory of the senior party leader Tirath Rawat.

The senior RSS activist added that the perceived TINA (there is no alternative) factor surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped the BJP overcome the challenges it faced in various constituencies. Frontline’s interactions with a cross section of the Uttarakhand electorate between the polling date (April 11) and the counting date (May 23) also underscored the significance of the BJP’s organisational machinery and the TINA factor in shaping the election outcome. Even those who did not take to the muscular nationalism campaign ultimately came round to the view that there was no alternative to Modi. The BJP-Sangh Parivar cadres were crucial in bringing this about through their constant interactions with the electorate.

In the last week of March, Frontline interacted with a group of Dehradun-based engineering college students hailing from different parts of Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh. At that time, all of them felt that the BJP leadership was going overboard with its muscular nationalism narrative. In particular, they criticised the Prime Minister’s March 27 address to the nation about the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test and his later assertion at political rallies that “he had the courage to conduct surgical strikes on land, air and in space” as “nautanki” (histrionics). However, when Frontline spoke to a few of them over phone after the polling, they said they eventually decided to go with “Modi again as Prime Minister” because they found no credible alternative among opposition leaders.

The election outcome once again validates the RSS categorisation of Uttarakhand as a State “predestined for victory” on account of its demographics. The State is dominated by upper-caste communities such as Thakurs (30 per cent) and Brahmins (22 per cent). These communities form the traditional vote base for the BJP. Moreover, the swelling of the BJP’s vote share to above 60 per cent shows that it has made significant inroads and consolidated its position among Other Backward Classes (OBC) such as Yadavs and Kurmis and various Dalit groups, who cumulatively add up to 32 per cent of the population.

The influence of the faction-ridden Congress on voters is on a steady decline in the State. With the BJP going from strength to strength, the Congress faces formidable challenges on its path to revival.