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Cong, BJP go head-to-head in Uttaranchal

By BS Regional Bureau
May 06, 2004 15:49 IST
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With just four days left for polls in Uttaranchal, the campaign machinery of both the ruling Congress and the BJP are working overtime.

Interestingly, both parties claim they will win all the five Lok Sabha seats in Uttaranchal. Four of the five seats -- Hardwar, Almora, Tehri and Pauri-Garhwal -- are held by the BJP.

The Congress retained the Nainital seat in the parliamentary by-election in 2002.

BJP stalwarts like Union Surface Transport Minister B C Khanduri and Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Bachi Singh Rawat are contesting from the state.

There is, however, a quid pro quo between the two parties as far as the Nainital and Hardwar seats are concerned.

According to local leaders from both parties, the BJP has virtually gifted the prestigious Nainital seat to Congress by fielding a 'weak' candidate, Vijay Bansal.

Bansal has locked horns with Congress candidate KC Singh 'Baba', a scion of the Chand dynasty.

The Congress has returned the favour in Hardwar by fielding Deepak Kumar, an 'outsider', much to the delight of the BJP.

The Congress is not leaving any stone unturned in the battle of ballots despite differences among its leaders. Despite bad blood between leaders like Irrigation Minister Shurvir Singh Sajwan, Industrial Development Minister Kishor Upadhyay on the one hand and the candidate from Tehri, Vijay Bahuguna,  bloodletting has been put off until after the campaign.

Similarly, Pradesh Congress Committee President Harish Rawat and his detractor and Chief Minister N D Tiwari have also entered into a truce of sorts.

In the key constituency of Tehri, it is still very difficult to say which party will eventually win.

While Bahuguna has roped in his sister Rita Bahuguna to win over women voters, Maharaja Manvendra Shah, the scion of the Tehri dynasty, who has won the seat for a record seven times, is also showing the royal touch by getting his wife and children to campaign. The Tehri dam rehabilitation issue is still haunting the two parties.

The main focus of the elections is on the Pauri-Garhwal seat, where two former generals of the Indian Army are facing each other. Major General (Retd) B C Khanduri is pitted against the Uttaranchal Tourism Minister, Lieutenant General (Retd) T P S Rawat.

Khanduri is banking on the developmental work that he has done in his constituency, in terms of widening of highways and construction of new roads. Rawat is leveraging his clean image.

In Almora, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Bachi Singh Rawat is facing a woman candidate for the first time. He has won three consecutive times from this seat. His challenger is Renuka Rawat of the Congress, who also happens to be the wife of the PCC chief.

It is understood that Harish Rawat managed to secure a ticket for his wife to keep his stranglehold over the constituency, something that was resented bitterly by ND Tewari, who had to relent in the end.

The BJP had initially tried to play up the issue of Renuka being Harish's second wife. As polygamy is not uncommon in the hills of Uttaranchal, the BJP decided against flogging the issue too much.

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BS Regional Bureau