In his bid to bring back the Congress to power in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi and his youth brigade seem to have left poll-bound Uttarakhand to State party leaders. As a result, from ticket distribution to campaigning, the Congress general secretary and his lieutenants have taken the back seat in this hill State that goes to the polls on January 30.
Out of 70 Assembly segments, only six candidates are contesting from the “Indian Youth Congress (IYC) quota,” known as Mr. Gandhi's “candidates” in the party; and a majority of them are in serious trouble as they are not only facing stiff challenge from loyalists-turned-rebels but also fighting the “outsider” tag.
They are Prakash Joshi (Kaladungi seat in Nainital district), Suresh Gangwar (Sitarganj segment in Udham Singh Nagar district), Lalit Farswan (Kapkot segment in Bageshwar district), Rajpal Singh Kharola (Rishikesh segment in Dehradun district), Jyoti Rautela (Lansdowne segment in Pauri district) and Rajpal Singh Bisht (Chaubattakhal segment in Pauri district).
Interestingly, going against the precedent, even the Uttarakhand youth wing head — Anand Rawat (son of Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Agriculture Harish Rawat) — is not contesting. Though Mr. Harish Rawat had publicly stated that no member from his family would contest the Assembly polls, party sources say the move was aimed at keeping the kin of other State Congress leaders away from the contest, particularly Uttarakhand State unit chief Yashpal Arya's son Sanjeev.
However, for Mr. Gandhi's “nominees,” it is a tough fight ahead. For instance, Congress candidate Prakash Joshi from the newly-constituted Assembly segment Kaladungi, which falls in the periphery of the Corbett National Park in Nainital district, is pitted against Cabinet Minister and BJP veteran Bansi Dhar Bhagat. But Mr. Joshi's real worry is party rebel Mahesh Sharma, who is also contesting as an Independent candidate.
Though Mr. Joshi is trying to woo the electorate with his family's association with the region to garner votes, few are convinced. “He may belong to this place, but we have never heard about him before. No known face of the Congress got ticket while we personally know the candidates of other parties… we are not sure whether he [Mr. Joshi] will ever visit his constituency if he wins,” says local resident Vikram Mehra.
On the other hand, Congress rebel Mahesh Sharma, once close to the State unit chief, had been active in the constituency for years and was leading the race of ticket aspirants before Mr. Joshi's candidature was announced, thanks to his “Delhi connection.”
Mr. Sharma even carried out several development works in the region as his wife — now expelled from the party — was the district panchayat chief. As a rebel, Mr. Sharma is making things difficult for Mr. Joshi, though the BJP candidate is facing anti-incumbency.
It is the same story in other seats as well. In some places the Congress has managed to “placate” the rebels, but the party has failed to get support of these leaders who enjoy good influence in their areas, which could impact the party's chances. These Assembly segments include Rishikesh, Lansdowne and Chaubattakhal.
In the campaigning too, Rahul Gandhi has visited only a few constituencies. The Congress general secretary began his party's poll campaign in Uttarakhand with a rally in Dehradun, aimed at covering the entire State, but later confined himself to just Rishikesh and Kaladungi seats where his “nominees” are contesting. The only exception was Bajpur in Udham Singh Nagar district where the State unit chief, Yashpal Arya, is in the fray.
From his youth brigade, only Union Minister of State for Communications and IT Sachin Pilot has addressed rallies in a few constituencies, particularly in Haridwar district where the Congress is trying to make some progress. Dominated by electorates from the backward castes and the Muslim community, the Congress has failed to break the Bahujan Samaj Party's stronghold in Haridwar that now comprises 11 seats.