Old stars, new campaign

Though electioneering in Uttarakhand is still to gain momentum, thanks to consistent rains and snow in the region, the two main rivals – Congress and BJP – are finding it difficult to get good crowd-pullers, particularly from Bollywood, to campaign for their candidates. While the Congress is banking upon two popular personalities from the hill state – ace shooter Jaspal Rana and TV star Hemant Pandey (Pandeyji of TV serial ‘Office Office’ fame) – to draw crowds at the party’s rallies and road shows, the BJP will be depending on its two Rajya Sabha MPs — Hema Malini and Smriti Irani.

Interestingly, Jaspal Rana, who was the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Tehri in 2009 and lost to the Congress’ Vijay Bahuguna, recently changed sides after he was reportedly denied a BJP ticket for the state Assembly. But Mr. Rana asserts that he joined the Congress as he was feeling “suffocated” in the party which initiated him into politics. The Congress plans to organise road shows for its “star campaigners”, while the two BJP crowd-pullers will address a series of rallies in key constituencies.

A tale of two ex-CMs

In Uttarakhand, the talk of the town is the desperation of two former Chief Ministers – Nityanand Swami (BJP) and N.D. Tiwari (Congress) – to boost the political fortunes of their kin. N.D. Tiwari, who seldom moves out of Dehradun ever since he was forced to make an unceremonious exit from the Andhra Pradesh Raj Bhawan over an alleged sex scandal in 2009, is camping in Gadarpur in the Kumaon foothills to ensure his nephew Manish Tiwari’s victory on a Congress ticket. Thanks to his “old friends” in Delhi, Mr. Tiwari succeeded in securing a ticket for his nephew despite much opposition from within the state Congress. Mr. Tiwari, who has been MP from Nainital under which the Gadarpur assembly segment falls, hopes that his nephew will sail through riding on his popularity in the Kumaon region.

But the State’s first Chief Minister — Nityanand Swami — was not that lucky as his daughter Jyotsna Sharma was denied the BJP ticket from Dehradun Cantonment from where she is now contesting as an Independent. Ms. Sharma and her father turned down all requests from senior party leaders not to contest as it could jeopardise chances of BJP candidate’s victory.

Look before you spend

Candidates in Manipur are now facing stifling checks on election spending. In the past a candidate spent Rs. 40 lakh on an average for a constituency having 25,000 voters. On polling days, the agents of the candidates would bribe undecided voters with Rs. 500 or Rs. 1,000 each.

Chief Minister Okram Ibobi had the first taste of this in his Thoubal constituency when he launched his campaign. The election observers counted the number of people and the hired plastic chairs. Those gathered at the meeting were treated to kheer (sweetened rice and milk).

The observers reckoned on Rs. 25 for a plate of kheer and Rs 5 for a plastic chair. Other candidates are now being cautious. They are serving only tea at their functions. It is another story if lunches and dinners are later arranged on the sly. Instead of plastic chairs it is now mats.

(Contributed by Sandeep Joshi and Iboyaima Laithangbam)

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Poll DiaryJanuary 19, 2012