Main course: Rajpal Kharola versus Premchand Aggarwal with a side of Sandeep Gupta
The fight is straight forward across Uttarakhand in the Assembly elections 2017 between the outgoing Indian National Congress (INC) party led by political heavy weight Harish Rawat and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still trying to ride the remnants of the Modi wave. There are however a few spurts of independent candidates trying to steal the limelight or in some places spoil the game by biting into the vote share. These local independents are important elements in the poll fray as they have set out to voice themselves and stamp their presence in the public mandate.
One such independent candidate is Sandeep Gupta, contesting in the Rishikesh constituency. In Rishikesh constituency, the straight fight is between confident two-time sitting MLA Premchand Aggarwal (BJP) and Rajpal Kharola (INC). However, Sandeep Gupta, a former BJP candidate (2002 assembly elections) and how most would appraise him: a BJP rebel cutting Aggarwal’s votes is slowly turning the city behind him. Sandeep Gupta is airing the disdain and inadequacy of the BJP leadership in not selecting a local candidate from Rishikesh and how the city has not had a local representing them for the last so many decades.
His concerns are valid as all the neighbouring areas of Rishikesh, including Doiwala have witnessed exponential growth in the last decade, however Rishikesh has slipped. While, Rishikesh MLA Premchand Aggarwal can be faulted for idling through his two continuous terms, and the Congress infighting not helping, couldn’t put up a consensus candidate to fight against the strong BJP cadre-vote in the plains of Rishikesh. How will this time be any different?
Coming back to the claim of Sandeep Gupta being the game spoiler between the two bigwigs, he has got the campaign in the city for ousting outsiders and electing a local face going very strong. Sandeep Gupta, might only end up with a 3rd place consolation finish but the votes he garners is being watched closely by both sides. If he dents into the core BJP cadre votes, that is sure to leave Premchand Aggarwal aggravated, while if he takes the meat out of the city votes that the Kharola-Deep Sharma union is banking on as the winning formula then he might leave Premchand Aggarwal laughing his way to a third win in the Assembly elections from Rishikesh. His persistence to contest has not limited the contest in Rishikesh to a two-party face-off.
Sandeep Gupta, a local businessman, and MCom graduate is projecting himself as the candidate the city needs. Rishikesh city badly needs to represent itself in the Uttarakhand assembly, and without a candidate who is willing to work for both the urgent and developmental problems of the city, Rishikesh has suffered.
His major support base includes local BJP leadership aggrieved with Premchand Aggarwal getting the party ticket for the 3rd time. He is also being backed by the local businessman and tradesman lobby looking for a resonant voice.
Weakness, no real depth within the rural areas around Rishikesh and lacks the familiarity a party symbol brings. His ‘Cup-Plate’ has often proved lucky in the municipal elections for independents, however will he make it all the way? We don’t know! Is he the right candidate to go with, that’s for you to decide?
Let’s do a small profile check on the two other candidates as well.
Rajpal Kharola, is a MSc, a local businessman, closely associated with student & youth politics and recounts multiple achievements even without holding any public office for the city of Rishikesh. By his own admission, starting a morgue in Rishikesh, providing for settlements for the rehabilitated and continuously engaging with the issues of the poorer segments in his constituency.
He fought the last election as well, as a Congress candidate, however multiple fragments of the party vote share cost him this seat. To his credit, he did procure the second position in a tightly contested fight. He quite confidently also represents a silent cross-section of the Garhwali speaking population of the region, most of whom have descended from the hills and resettled here in Rishikesh. Without making his Garhwali affinity felt, he has also continuously kept with the Congress party line and now enjoys the local support of Deep Sharma, Jayendra Ramola, Harshwardhan Sharma and other Congress party members in Rishikesh. Having the backing of the symbol now will go in his favour, even though youth has slipped away.
His weakness lies in the lack of affinity of the trading population of Rishikesh towards him, or the market. How much will coming together of Deep Sharma with him change that, and how much of it will be bit into by Sandeep Gupta is a chase being carried out. As much as he enjoys a given cadre vote and those displeased by the BJP, his limitations lie in stretching that city vote. Which booths go in his favour and which swing the other way, is yet to be seen.
Premchand Aggarwal, a LLB by qualification, has the fuel to get a third straight win if the odds are right. Even though the setback of Sandeep Gupta rebelling and contesting independently may hit his vote share, Premchand Aggarwal is quite well placed. As Sandeep Gupta will bite into Congress’s city votes as well, he is also reliant on the Congress infighting and smaller leaders like Vivek Tiwari, Lallan Rajbhar biting into the traditional Congress vote share.
Aggarwal, has a strong presence in the periphery areas and booths of Rishikesh constituency, however lack of any solid development in the Rishikesh city in the last 10 years has lost him a lot of city votes. His grip on the city is further loosened by the outsider tag, as he hails from Doiwala. However, he has been residing in Rishikesh for most parts of his 10 year long tenure. He is an easily approachable leader; he visibly enjoys the support of the central leadership and might even rake in a ministry if elected for a third term. However, his work tally only includes construction of few small length roads and plugging holes. The lack of any far reaching vision or plan has stalled the development of the town. The youth want jobs, better education and healthcare in 10 years none of those have upgraded in Rishikesh.
His weakness, difficult to point out for a two-time sitting MLA, he must be doing something right, however, 10 years is a long time, dissention from a big leader, city folk getting dissuaded, no connect with the youth of the city are all probable reasons for a shock defeat. Will he be able to make a treble, and surprise us?
Many permutations and combinations are at play in a real time political scenario, the anti-incumbency he generated for his seat can easily be negated for the anti-incumbency of the Harish Rawat government. Further, while the Modi wave may be dying down, a strong resurgence of aligning the party in the state assembly with the party in power at the centre seems to be the favoured option for Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand has suffered for being on the opposite side for two successive governments.
In Rishikesh, the math is not so complicated, from the 90,000 people, if not more, (approximated from the 2012 voter turnout of 67%) expected to vote this time in Rishikesh for the 11 candidates standing in the elections, the vote split will be in four fragments. The bottom runk shall comprise the 5 casual runners who shall garner anywhere between 200-600 votes each. Followed by the middle bracket, leaders like Vivek Tiwari, Rajendra Gairola and Lallan Rajbhar with some substantial backing and loud promotions in their favour can muster anywhere between 2000-6000 votes each. The remaining 76000 votes are going to end up with the big two party candidates and a chunk of them with Sandeep Gupta.
In this election Rishikesh’s pride is at stake, whether people vote for a local candidate or a candidate for the locals is chosen will be determined once the people have spoken.
*We shall not be able to provide you any exit poll results until after March 8, as stipulated by the Election Commission in its model code of conduct.