Prime Minister Narendra Modi is carrying the BJP on his shoulders in Uttarakhand.
The hill state votes on February 15 to elect 70 new MLAs and the BJP is trying to recreate what it calls “Modi magic” that helped it sweep all five parliamentary seats in 2014.
“Atal ne banaya, Modi sawarenge (Atal created, Modi will improve)” scream posters dotting the landscape along the 110-km highway between Dehradun and New Tehri. This is the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, a stronghold that BJP lost to Congress in the 2012 assembly elections.
But, BJP’s dependence on Modi — its most popular leader today — is more of a compulsion than choice. Chief minister Harish Rawat is Congress’ undisputed leader and BJP is a divided house. About half a dozen tainted faces from Rawat’s government shifted sides to the BJP.
There are now murmurs about the party’s conviction to fight corruption when all of those who represented the ‘ills’ of Rawat government are in the saffron stable. Modi as the central figure of the campaign is trying to iron out these creases.
“Uttarakhand BJP has no face to match Modi stature,” says Devendra Belwal, head of Dhanaulti village. “He is without any baggage.”
It has four former chief ministers on its side — BC Khanduri, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Vijay Bahuguna. About half a dozen other BJP leaders also nurse chief ministerial ambitions.
Khanduri has the reputation of a ‘clean’ politician, but at 82 he is too old for the post.
“The two and a half year rule of Modi is an advantage,” Tehri Garhwal MP Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah told HT. “Modi is popular among people here”.