Close contest between BJP’s Nishank and Renuka Rawat of Congress

In the early stages of the campaign, the Bharatiya Janata Party was confident of winning all five Lok Sabha seats in this hill State. But that has changed with Chief Minister Harish Rawat leading the Congress charge.

The contest in Hardwar is particularly close, though BJP candidate Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank says it is good for him that the Chief Minister’s wife, Renuka Rawat, is in the fray, arguing that Mr. Rawat, who has been the MP from here for the past five years, is answerable to people on what work he has done.

Ms. Rawat says she is contesting to continue the development work her husband has started.

“He [Mr. Nishank] was Chief Minister during the Kumbh Mela. Money was spent on shoddy work. He should talk about his record as Chief Minister before questioning Mr. Rawat’s work,” she says. The Congress has alleged that there were large-scale financial irregularities in organising the 2010 Maha Kumbh Mela.

But the BJP considers Ms. Rawat, who lost to Bachi Singh Rawat of the party in 2004, a “political novice.”

The allegations of corruption against Mr. Nishank seem to be somewhat offset by the “Modi wave.” “We are not voting for Nishank. We are voting for Narendra Modi. We don’t care who the BJP candidate is, our vote is for Modi,” says Chaman Singh, an autorickshaw driver.

Of the 16 lakh voters in the constituency, 3.5-4 lakh are Muslim and around 2.5 lakh Dalit. “The Congress is banking on Muslim votes. The BSP’s Haji Islam is a weak candidate. So the Dalit vote will split. However, this will benefit the BJP thanks to the Modi factor,” says Chandrapal Chauhan, a Congress worker.

The BJP has seven Assembly seats, the Congress four, and the BSP three in the constituency. But the BSP MLAs Surendra Rakesh and Hari Das, recently suspended from their party, support the Congress. The Congress expects these BSP leaders to help shift some Dalit votes in its favour.

As Khanpur, Jhabrera, Manglaur and Bhagwanpur in the constituency are on the Uttar Pradesh border, the voting pattern there may be influenced by the politics in Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur in U.P.

The Muzaffarnagar riots have impacted both Hindu and Muslim voters. BJP and Congress campaign planners are of the view that a majority of the Muslim votes would go to the Congress and Hindu votes to the BJP.

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