The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, known as “Devbhoomi”, was carved out of the hilly districts of the state of Uttar Pradesh in the year 2000. The hilly state, comprising of the two major regions of Garhwal and Kumaon, has voted to elect its fifth legislative assembly on February 14, 2022. Since its inception, the state has witnessed a predominantly bipolar contest between the political giants of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), however, the performance of other parties was also critical in the electoral political realm of the state. The 2022 assembly elections were, however, marked by an aggressive campaigning by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), trying to emerge as an alternative pole in the traditionally bipolar polity of the state, along with the likes of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which tried to reclaim its lost ground and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM) bid to make its presence felt in the state.

The first three assembly elections in Uttarakhand witnessed a neck-to-neck competition between the two major players in terms of vote share. However, the 2017 assembly election saw a thumping victory for the BJP. They edged out the Opposition Congress by securing nearly half of the entire votes polled. In comparison with the 2012 assembly elections, though the grand old party retained its vote share in 2017, they were utterly decimated in the polls, confining themselves to just eleven seats against the fifty-seven of the BJP. The humiliation suffered by the then ruling Congress was furthered by the defeat of the then incumbent Chief Minister, Harish Rawat, from the two seats of Kichha and Haridwar Rural he contested. This impressive victory of the BJP was argued to be at the cost of “Others”, who suffered a massive fall in their vote share. The BSP, which played an instrumental role in past government formations and had a decent vote share in the past elections, were confined to zero seats in 2017, with a considerable drop in their vote share and loss of their significance in the politics of the hill state. The Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), which was formed with the objective of a separate state for the hilly areas of the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh state, began to lose its support from the first assembly elections itself, was then pushed to margins in the subsequent years and electorally wiped out in the previous assembly polls (Upadhyay, 2021). 

In this context, we will be looking into the possibility of the rise of an alternative political force in the state, especially with the Arvind Kejriwal led AAP unleashing a spirited campaign in the state. In addition to the likes of the AAP, which had put forth its best foot to emerge as an alternative in the state and the BSP, which tried to reclaim its lost ground, the 2022 polls were also marked by the first-time entry of AIMIM into the hilly state’s electoral politics. Out of the thirteen districts of the state, eleven of them have a predominantly Hindu population, more than eighty per cent of these districts’ population being Hindus (Census, 2011). The social equilibrium of the state is skewed towards the upper caste groups, with Brahmins and Thakurs constituting the state’s largest vote bank. All the Chief Ministers of the state till today have also hailed from either of these two communities. The Dalit communities constitute around nineteen per cent of the state’s population; their distribution is almost even among the districts, with the district of Bageshwar having a comparatively higher concentration and Udham Singh Nagar and Dehradun districts having relatively less concentration. Though Hindus dominate the state’s demography, the districts of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar have a substantial Muslim population, which the Owaisi led AIMIM might try to tap into in the long run. They could also be a potential spoilsport for the Congress in a few Muslim-dominated pockets of these districts by cutting into the traditional Congress votes.

District wise Map of Uttarakhand

The Aam Aadmi Party, which is touted as the party of change, had launched an aggressive campaign around the “Delhi model” of governance, highlighting the concessions offered on the electricity and water bills, along with the lofty promises of better education, health, and infrastructure. The party had managed to gain some traction among the electorate as they focused on subjects that directly influenced their day-to-day lives. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party had also announced Colonel (Retired) Ajay Kothiyal as its Chief Ministerial face for the 2022 elections, who rose to prominence in the aftermath of the 2013 floods, where he played an instrumental role in the reconstruction of Kedarpuri,. Uttarakhand also has a sizeable population of ex-service personnel and their families, which AAP tried to woo by declaring a retired defence personnel as its Chief Ministerial face (Singh, 2021). AAP has also attempted to make an emotional appeal to the predominantly Hindu-dominated state by promising them to turn the state into the “Spiritual Capital of Hindus” if given a shot at power.

Uttarakhand is also a vital state along with the likes of Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, etc., in the long-term plans of the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s bid to make his party emerge as a viable national force, alternative to the ruling BJP and the Congress. Several political analysts across the spectrum argue that the hilly state has an intrinsic centripetal tendency to incline towards the political centre and thus to the national parties. The AAP might provide a perception that they are a national outfit with a national outlook that may aid them to emerge as a potential player in the state polity (Pande, 2021). However, there is also a void left in the polity by the decimation of UKD and BSP in the past election, and a host of independents, rebel and minor players have commanded a significant chunk of votes in many segments. The BSP alone lost around six per cent votes in the past election, drawing a blank in the polls and sixty of its candidates forfeiting their deposits. The Mayawati led BSP that polled more than five per cent of votes in 41 assembly seats in 2012 was able to cross the same five per cent mark in just 18 segments in 2017. This opens up AAP a chance to occupy the space that BSP and the parties like UKD earlier occupied and, in the long term, emerging as a potential force to reckon in the state. However, AAP also had to battle against the perception of being an “outsider” to the state that has been raised against it by the ruling BJP and the resurgent Congress during the run-up to polls.

The outcome of the 2022 assembly elections in Uttarakhand is likely to be impacted by the performance of AAP, even if they fail to win a substantial number of seats. The major political parties, BJP and the Congress, are wary of the AAP playing the role of a spoilsport, as the votes captured by them could play a significant role in tilting the election in favour of either of the mainstream parties. The current opposition, INC, needs a positive swing in its vote share at the cost of the BJP from the 2017 mark to come back to power, and if the AAP eats into the anti-incumbency votes, it could be disastrous for the Congress. However, if the AAP can capture a part of the traditional non-Congress votes that were with BJP, it could turn the tables in favour of Congress. In addition to that, the surge in BJP’s vote share in 2017 mainly came at the expense of the BSP and Others, and if the AAP can eat into a part of these votes that came to BJP in 2017, it could have huge repercussions on the ruling party’s prospects. Therefore, the percentage of votes AAP adds to its kitty and which party’s and community’s votes they are tapping into will play a crucial role in the outcome of these elections. The impact Arvind Kejriwal led party can make in the 2022 polls will be instrumental in shaping their future in the political space of not just the state of Uttarakhand but also in the national political landscape.

Arun Regi Chacko is Election Studies Intern at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research. 

Featured Image Courtesy: NDTV.com

All electoral data and demographical data are from ECI and Census 2011 websites respectively

References

Pande. (2021, October 20). Uttarakhand polls: Can AAP alter a bipolar polity? Deccan Herald. https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/uttarakhand-polls-can-aap-alter-a-bipolar-polity-1042416.html

Singh, P. (2021, August). Ajay Kothiyal, the retired Army Colonel behind Kedarpuri & AAP’s CM face in Uttarakhand. https://theprint.in/politics/ajay-kothiyal-the-retired-army-colonel-behind-kedarpuri-aaps-cm-face-in-uttarakhand/717785/

Upadhyay, V. (2021, June 2). Can AAP make inroads to Uttarakhand—The graveyard of regional parties? The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/specials/2021/feb/06/can-aap-make-inroads-to-uttarakhand—the-graveyard-of-regional-parties-2260414.html

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