Environmental issues have failed to dominate the countryside in eco-fragile Uttarakhand
Ahead of the February 14 elections for the Uttarakhand Assembly, temples and development are among the issues raised by politicians. Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat’s attempt to bring together the four shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri and other temples under one council ended with the withdrawal of the law of 2019 in November 2021, after continued opposition from priests. The new Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, who in July 2021 replaced Tirath Singh Rawat, who had replaced Mr. Trivendra Singh Rawat in March of the same year, conducted a review. Mr Dhami said that while the decision to form the council may have been taken with good intentions, it was reversed after discussion within the government. In the run-up to the elections, everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to local BJP leaders have touted the Kedarnath redevelopment as one of the achievements of what they call the “dual engine” government of Center and Uttarakhand. In December, Mr Modi ushered in the launch of the Lakhwar multipurpose project and road projects worth ₹8,700 crore. With the government backing major infrastructure projects, Mr Modi called this decade the decade of Uttarakhand. While environmentalists have raised concerns about broken rules for major infrastructure projects, major parties have yet to raise environmental concerns.
Issues of national security and the well-being of former military personnel also dominate the campaign. With a large population of retired soldiers, Uttarakhand’s politics have always witnessed a certain demagogy on issues that concern them. The brother of the late Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, Colonel (Retired) Vijay Rawat joined the BJP this week. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) projected another retired colonel, Ajay Kothiyal, as the main ministerial candidate and promised government jobs to all former state military personnel. Mr. Dhami spoke as a “son of a soldier” and said that only the BJP respects the forces. The BJP is trying to combat anti-incumbency and the perception that it is a house divided, having changed two chief ministers in a matter of months in 2021. Congress hopes to regain power, having previously lost in 2017. distribution within the party have come to light, with former chief minister Harish Rawat being one of the contenders for the leadership post. AAP joined the race with the promise of development, replicating the Delhi model, and an end to “power sharing” between the BJP and Congress. A series of promises, from free water and electricity to better schools, are being made. What is missing is an informed debate on a development model suitable for the ecologically fragile place that is Uttarakhand.