Will Khanduri prove poll pundits wrong?

There were two factors -- Khanduri’s anti-corruption agenda and Nishank’s corruption -- which had to decide BJP’s fate in Uttarakhand.

Saswat Panigrahi

A majority of the exit polls conducted by various television news channels show that Congress has an edge over BJP in Uttarakhand. Out of the five exit polls, four have predicted that the BJP could win between 22 to 30 seats in the Uttarakhand Assembly elections. Only one exit poll projected the saffron party as the winner, predicting 39 seats for it.

If the result goes the majority way, it will be a huge setback for the saffron party.

But how was BJP placed in the last elections? Let’s flip through some quick electoral statistics.

Uttarakhand has 70 Assembly constituencies. The state has witnessed two Assembly elections so far. In the 2007 Assembly elections, the BJP won 36 seats, whereas its main opponent Congress managed to win 21, thanks to the ant-incumbency factor against the ND Tiwari-led Congress government. In the 2002 Assembly elections, BJP had won 19 seats and Congress 36. The BJP had lost power because of the anti-incumbency against Bhagat Singh Koshiyari-led interim government.

Uttarakhand has voted out incumbent governments in the two Assembly elections is has had so far.
But this time there was widespread speculation that General BC Khanduri would scrape through despite anti-incumbency. Many said it was a battle, not so tough for General Khanduri.

It was Khanduri who had led the party to victory in 2007 elections and was subsequently chosen as the Chief Minister. However, he was booted out after the party performed poorly in the 2009 general election (the BJP had lost all five Lok Sabha seats to Congress). Marred with internal dissent, amid the growing ‘Remove Khanduri’ chorus, he quit taking responsibility for the poll debacle. Ramesh Pokhariyal ‘Nishank’ was inducted as the Chief Minister. But Nishank’s tenure had pushed the saffron party to the wall amid allegations of a series of scams. A couple of months before the Assembly elections, the BJP central leadership replaced Khanduri as Chief Minister in a tearing hurry to salvage the party’s sagging image in the state.

Khanduri tried to clean up the mess done by his predecessor and put BJP back in a fighting mode. Within two months of taking over as the Chief Minister for the second time, he enacted two landmark anti-graft legislations – the Lokayukta Bill and the Right to Public Services legislation. The BJP tried to cash in on the “clean image” of Khanduri to sail through the Assembly elections.
With Khanduri back in the saddle, BJP made fight against corruption a major poll plank in this election. But the corruption from Nishank’s tenure was also haunting the BJP in the polls.

The reality was that in this Assembly election, the BJP was not only fighting against Congress, but it was a “fight within” as well.

There were two factors -- Khanduri’s anti-corruption agenda and Nishank’s corruption -- which had to decide BJP’s fate in Uttarakhand.

Congress’ anti-corruption babble against BJP won’t be much of a factor. As a matter of fact, as many as 70 scams from the ND Tiwari rule are still haunting the Congress.

So, will Khanduri’s anti-corruption agenda win over Nishank’s corruption saga? And if that happens, General Khanduri will certainly prove the poll pundits wrong. So wait for March 06 for the final verdict. And if it goes the other way it is the BJP which needs to be blamed.

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