Despite its relatively small size, Uttarakhand historically witnesses regional divide (Kumaon vs Garhwal and plains vs hills), and this regional fault line affects the political and electoral outcome in the State.
It is believed that whenever power position (Kumaon vis-à-vis Garhwal) changes, it affects the development of other regions. If we look at the leadership and centre of politics of the two main political parties — the Congress and the BJP — one can see that the Congress leadership has largely been from the Kumaon area and allegedly works for this region; whereas, most of the BJP leaders are from Garhwal and this works favourably for the region. But the BJP tried to balance this by inclusion of Nainital (in the Kumaon region) MP Ajay Bhatt in the Modi Cabinet in the recent Cabinet reshuffle and by making Pushkar Singh Dhami, a Kumaoni, as the Chief Minister.
For the past few years (after BJP came to power), the political heavyweights in the State have been from Garhwal. This helped in reducing the feeling of discrimination among Garhwalis. In the 2017 post-poll survey, close to two in five (39%) Garhwalis believed that Kumaon received more attention vis-à-vis Garhwal; but in the present post-poll survey of Lokniti-CSDS one can see a drastic change in this sentiment. This time close to one in six (16%) Garhwalis felt discriminated against vis-à-vis Kumaon.
The decimated feeling of regional discrimination in Garhwal helped the BJP consolidate its position in this region. However, in the Kumaon hills, the feeling that their region had been discriminated against vis-à-vis Garhwal was greater; close to three in 10 (28%) Kumaoni respondents felt their region discriminated against vis-à-vis Garhwal — four percentage points more than in the last election. The feeling of regional discrimination and apathy benefited the Congress more in Kumaon than in Garhwal but not as much as it would have liked because here also the BJP has lead over the Congress by four percentage points (Table 1).
Congress benefited in plains
Another regional divide in Uttarakhand appears to be the one between the plains and the hills. Both sides are of the opinion that the other had received more development attention. Feeling of neglect in the plains vis-à-vis the mountains seems to have benefited the Congress in the plains; the party got 15 percentage point more votes than the BJP from the plains among those who felt discriminated against vis-à-vis the mountains.
Even in the mountains, the gap between the BJP and the Congress wasn’t much among those voters from the hills who felt discriminated against vis-à-vis the plains. There was a strong demand that for the development of Uttarakhand, summer capital Gairsain (announced on March 4, 2020) should be made the only capital of the State and in the survey, close to one-third (35%) of the Uttarakhandi voters supported this demand.
Close to three in 10 voters in Uttarakhand said that making Gairsain the only capital was very important for them while deciding their vote choice. Gairsain falls in Chamoli district which comes under the Garhwal division but the demand of making Gairsain a capital of Uttarakhand is considerably high in Kumaon. Data indicate that a little over three in five (63%) of the Kumaoni voters considered it right to make Gairsain the only capital, whereas in the Garhwal region, the proportion was close to two-fifths (37%). It was even lower in the plains, only 18% considered this demand right. In Kumaon, half of the voters said that making Gairsain a State capital was a very important voting issue for them, in Garhwal 19% and in the plains, 26% of the voters considered it a very important election issue.
(Jyoti Mishra is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS; Bharti Sharma is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Graphic Era (Deemed to be University), Dehradun)