Even though Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami lost from his own constituency, the BJP’s gamble to appoint him as Chief Minister just seven months before the elections seems to have worked to its advantage, particularly in the mountainous parts of Garhwal and Kumaon. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi was more instrumental in giving the party a repeat victory in the State, the Central leadership’s decision to remove Trivendra Singh Rawat as Chief Minister and bring in Mr. Dhami eventually (after Tirath Singh Rawat’s brief stint) seems to have played a role too.
Lokniti’s post-poll data found Mr. Dhami’s seven-month-old government to be better rated than the BJP’s five-year government in the State and far better rated than Trivendra Singh Rawat’s four-year tenure. While dissatisfaction with the Rawat government was found to be greater than satisfaction with it (61% as opposed to 33%), in the case of Mr. Dhami’s government, more people were found to be satisfied (59%) than dissatisfied (32%).
We also found that as many as three in every 10 of all voters and nearly two in five of traditional BJP voters were dissatisfied with the work done under Trivendra Rawat, but satisfied with the performance of Mr. Dhami. A large majority of such voters ended up voting for the BJP (55% and 78%, respectively). Just as the Congress government in Punjab was found in our survey there to be more unpopular on account of Amarinder Singh’s four-and-a-half-year tenure, in Uttarakhand too, the BJP government’s not-so-great assessment by voters was clearly more due to Trivendra Rawat’s tenure. However, unlike in Punjab, where the Congress failed to control the damage through the eleventh-hour elevation of Charanjit Singh Channi as Chief Minister, in Uttarakhand, the BJP did benefit from its late decision to replace the Chief Minister.
Mr. Dhami’s popularity was, however, restricted to the Garhwal and Kumaon hills, where satisfaction with his government was greater than in the Maidan region. Moreover, in both the mountainous regions, he was far ahead of his closest competitor, Harish Rawat, of the Congress, in terms of being wanted as the State’s next Chief Minister. In upper parts of the State, well over two in five of the respondents expressed a desire to see him back as Chief Minister, while in the plains area, this desire was much weaker (three in 10). Our data also suggest that Mr. Dhami found greater acceptance among previous Congress supporters than Harish Rawat did among previous BJP supporters. In sum, the Dhami gamble of the BJP does seem to have converted an anti-incumbency mood into a pro-incumbency one.
Sanjay Kumar is Co-Director of the Lokniti programme at CSDS; Shreyas Sardesai is with Lokniti-CSDS