With Party stalwarts, Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri deciding to stay out of the poll fray this year, retaining all of Uttarakhand’s five Lok Sabha seats appears to be an uphill task for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Uttarakhand is voting in Phase 1 of the Lok Sabha election 2019.
Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the incumbent MP from Nainital, has decided not to contest the Lok Sabha polls to make room for young leaders.
Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri, the sitting MP from Pauri, too has expressed unwillingness to contest the polls. Khanduri, who cited ill health for not enter the poll fray, announced his decision after he was dropped as chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.
Left with no choice, the BJP has decided to gamble on new faces.
The party has fielded state unit president Ajay Bhatt from Nainital and his predecessor, Tirath Singh Rawat from Pauri.
Bhatt and Rawat aren’t new to politics, but this the first time either of them is contesting a Lok Sabha election.
Ajay Bhatt is pitted against senior Congress leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat.
A five-time MP, Harish Rawat is credited with having defeated BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi from the neighbouring Almora in the 1980s, when it was not a reserved seat.
In the 2017 Assembly election, Ajay Bhatt lost from the Ranikhet seat while Harish Rawat lost from the Kichha and Haridwar Rural seats.
Pauri is will also witness an interesting contest, with the BJP’s Tirath Singh Rawat fighting against the Congress’s Manish Khanduri.
The son of former Uttarakhand chief minister and ex-MP, BC Khanduri, Manish joined the Congress in the presence of party president Rahul Gandhi.
Poll watchers said Manish’s entry has strengthened the Congress in Garhwal and it cannot be said with certainty which way the voters will sway.
Tehri may prove to be another difficult seat for the BJP with sitting MP Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah facing a tough contest against state Congress president and Chakrata MLA Pritam Singh.
The Congress leader wields considerable clout among tribals, who have a large presence in the constituency, and is likely to prove to be a tough opponent.
Besides, Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah also faces anti-incumbency.
Yet another challenge Shah faces is the split of traditional votes due to the presence of Gopal Mani, a cow conservationist, who is contesting as an independent.
Before the BJP finalised its Uttarakhand candidates, there was speculation the party was looking to replace her after getting reports of her popularity diminishing in Tehri.
Almora, a reserved seat, will likely witness a close contest between BJP’s sitting MP Ajay Tamta and the Congress’s Rajya Sabha MP Pradeep Tamta.
The two have fought against each other in the past as well. While Ajay defeated Pradeep in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress leader defeated the former in the 2009 general election.
The only seat where the BJP may not find the going tough is Haridwar. The BJP has fielded former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank from the seat to take on Congress’s Ambarish Kumar.
Kumar, a Vaishya leader, has been around for years but has only been lucky in the polls once. He won from the Haridwar Assembly constituency on a Samajwadi Party ticket in 1996.
He will be making his Lok Sabha poll debut this year.
While only time will tell what lies in store for the BJP and the Congress, it is clear that the April 11 polls will be a high-stakes battle for the two parties.
The results will be announced on May 23.