What prompted BJP to go all guns blazing in Uttarakhand in the last days of campaigning?
New Delhi, February 14, 2022
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) changed three chief ministers in Uttarakhand in about three months last year, hoping that it would be able to defeat the anti-incumbency against its government.
It isn't that easy, though. The strong anti-incumbency factor is resonating on the ground.
The Congress has sought to tap public anger by raising the issues of price rise, unemployment, distress migration apart from the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sensing that the ground was slipping beneath its feet as the Congress was getting a good response, the BJP went back to the drawing board to stem the slide.
It upped the ante by raising the issues of uniform civil code, alleged influx of Rohingya Muslims and the forced migration due to a demographic imbalance. A claim that former chief minister and Congress party's campaign committee chairman Harish Rawat had accepted a demand for setting up a "Muslim University" in the state soon dominated the poll narrative.
To strengthen this perception, it was added that it was Rawat who had allowed Muslim employees in the government to offer Friday prayers during his tenure.
Rawat is seen on every news channel denying that he had given any assurance of setting up a "Muslim University".
Are Muslims influential enough to change the poll outcome in Uttarakhand?
Muslims constitute about 14% of Uttarakhand's approximately 1.1 crore population, according to the 2011 census. They are mainly concentrated in pockets of Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar, Haldwani, Dehradun, Nainital and Almora, accounting for around 20 of the total 70 seats.
On the other hand, Hindus constitute about 83% while the remaining 3% are Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Buddhists. The two dominant Hindu castes are Brahmins and Thakurs, constituting 25% and 35%, respectively. The Dalits comprise around 19%. So, the Muslims can play a crucial role in just less than one-third seats and that is a substantial figure.
Uttarakhand has a history of throwing out an incumbent government every five years since its formation in 2000.
The strong anti-incumbency against its government forced the BJP leadership to replace then chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat with Lok Sabha member from Garhwal Tirath Singh Rawat in March last year after remaining at the helm for four years.
But Tirath Singh Rawat too did not last long and he was shown the door after just 114 days in office. Subsequently in July, the BJP brought in a young leader and till then an unknown face, Pushkar Singh Dhami, as the chief minister.
A few days ahead of the February 14 polling day, Dhami promised to implement a uniform civil code in the state.
Soon, top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, launched an aggressive campaign in Uttarakhand.
The Prime Minister made an indirect reference to the "Muslim University" and also spoke about the the 2016 surgical strike against terror hideouts in Pakistan and how the Congress allegedly abused late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, who hailed from Uttarakhand, for that.
Going a step ahead, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma made derogatory remarks against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for questioning the surgical strikes.
Now, a video of Amit Shah has gone viral in which he purportedly used disparaging remarks against Rawat.
The Congress described this onslaught as an act of desperation on the part of the BJP and its last-minute bid to polarise the elections.
Whether all this is successful in beating the anti-incumbency factor will be known on March 10 when the results are out.
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