Why Nishank Is Confident Of A Win In Dharmanagri Despite Caste And Religion Factors Flowing Into The Cradle Of Ganga And Another Kumbh

by Sumati Mehrishi - Apr 12, 2019 07:12 AM
Why Nishank Is Confident Of A Win In Dharmanagri Despite Caste And Religion Factors Flowing Into The Cradle Of Ganga And Another KumbhDr Nishank (@DrRPNishank/Twitter.com) 
  • In the Haridwar constituency, the Mahakumbh, cleaning of Ganga ghats, the approaching Kumbh, surgical strikes, GST, infrastructure, direct beneficiary schemes, and the pitch to preserve Dharmanagri seem to be giving Nishank an edge.

As the Haridwar constituency votes today, it will be watching three fights rolled into one. The Bharatiya Janata Party is presenting the fight against the adversary as an emotional carry over. A movement "from ballot to bullet".

And in the backdrop is Narendra Modi's call for the Kumbh. In the backdrop is his call for a repeat of 2014. In the backdrop is the work done in the state in partnership with the centre and a spirited call for its continuity. In the backdrop is the call for a vote for Modi.

The first fight is at the national level, which ensues vibrantly on the emotion of nationalism. The second, state level, where the development dynamics unfold, while the third is at the local level, resting on the Vidhan Sabha-specific personality and the complexities of caste and religion.

The first fight has Narendra Modi at the helm and Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal "Nishank" as his representative. At this level what unravels is Nishank's own stature in the Uttarakhand BJP, which his rivals outside the party often perceive as his ambition to grow on the national front.

Nishank has celebrated this rising stature by spouting more poetic lines with a lilt in his voice while interacting with his voters. He has seemed pepped by the circumstances and has spoken with gentle ruthlessness at the sabhas, even as more and more support came in at the local front from doubtful quarters.

One would think that for a small state that has seen less than five Lok Sabha elections, a leader growing within and outside the state context would be good news. But that doesn't seem to be the case for Nishank in some parts of the Haridwar constituency.

His political adversaries - the Congress, under Ambrish Kumar and the BSP under Dr. Antariksh Saini - don't want to give him that room and leg space. Yet, Nishank persists. He pairs the work done by BJP at the local and state level with that of Modi at the national level during his campaigning.

Between 2004 and 2019, four Uttarakhand  leaders, two from Congress and two from BJP, have made their presence felt around the top leaders of the two parties. This is how, at least, the old media and the audience see it as being played out towards what is defined as "national politics".

For some reason, writhing under the seemingly soft layers of Uttarakhand politics, Nishank's rise and ambitious stance seems to trouble his competitors. In the wake of this Lok Sabha election he is being looked at within the BJP as having reached the midpoint in BJP's growing stature in Uttarakhand and Delhi, in its paayedaan se sheersh (from ground to the helm) scenario.

At the second level of the fight, the reasons for the seeming discontent against Nishank have been these: some people say he doesn't visit the Vidhan Sabhas in his constituency; that he could have done a lot more. However, the last week of March saw local leaders calming some blips of protest against Nishank's second consecutive candidature from Haridwar. This was done in order to put up a united front against the Congress and to not waste time in the already short slab of time allotted for campaigning.

This factor seems to have triggered Nishank to take a measured but aggressive stance in his campaigning. From within the carefully constructed poetic outbursts, he does use the same gnashing of teeth while speaking that is sometimes seen in Narendra Modi's display of anger in the latter's politically-charged speeches.

At the third level, the fight is being played out by Nishank's competitors. They are gathering all bits of discontent from within the sections of voters against Nishank. They are threading them together, and throwing this well-threaded hoopla towards him, thinking that it will tangle his pace and path.

It is at this level that caste and religion complexities and chemistry will count, with the SC vote said to be accounting for nearly 19 per cent.

At all three levels of the poll’s pull and push, Nishank, as spoken at a Jan Sabha in March last week, would factor in the 10 lakh people who have directly benefited from the different schemes rolled out by the centre and state in tandem.

In the last three Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was seen as surging ahead only after Modi's entry into the national context. In 2004, BSP and BJP were competing to move ahead of the mightier Samajwadi Party. The Congress was at the lowest, but this was followed by a reverse of its performance in 2009. That was when Harish Rawat made his entry. He polled 42 per cent of the votes.

The biggest loser is Samajwadi Party that had almost vanished from the Lok Sabha Haridwar scene in 2014, with Nishank, under Modi, doubling his vote share. Congress, with Harish Rawat's wife Renuka Rawat contesting against Nishank, fell to 35 per cent. However, a name from 2009 context has popped up against Nishank in 2019, this time under the Congress. He is Ambrish Kumar.

There are roughly 70 per cent Hindus in the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency. One party is continuing its push towards uniting the Hindu vote. What this would leave the other party busy with, is anyone's guess.

The former chief minister and now a sitting member of Parliament is going all out with two messages in the wake of a vociferous series of attacks from his chief competitor from the Congress. The first message is Narendra Modi's work, the tough decisions taken, and the policies and schemes for development. The second message is that it was Nishank himself who fought for making Haridwar part of Uttarakhand in the first place. And so he is as much an insider and outsider to Haridwar as anyone else is.

Swarajya visited the Vidhan Sabha seats in Haridwar, Rishikesh, Roorkee, and Dehradun that together make the Haridwar constituency a hot seat of power.

The caste narrative vanishes in Rishikesh and Haridwar - where most voters I met, especially in villages, wished to see more of Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and Nishank. But most also say that this darshan can be postponed until 23 May because they are now busy working to bring Modi back!

Here dharma picks up pace. The enthusiasm surrounding the conclusion of one Kumbh and the preparation towards another, stretches from the emotion for Modi-Yogi to the Ganga in Haridwar.

Here nationalism lashes at the banks of the Ganga. Development work undertaken in the last five years in both the hills and the lower regions is surmounting the debate on the ghats. The railway line inching towards Karnaprayag is chugging in happiness.

BJP's Vidhan Sabha election stand appears convincing. MLA Madan Kaushik has upset a few but he is a Modi representative, "so, kshama" is reserved for him (as of now).

I started with Dharampur, a Vidhan Sabha constituency in Dehradun. In Dharampur, the man behind the microphone, until Nishank arrives for the Sankalp Jan Sabha, is Vinod Chamoli. He was a rising students' leader and popular in the same constituency during the 1990s. Currently, he is an MLA.

At the sabha, he blew a message into the microphone in the strongest pitch his throat could achieve, "We wanted to win this election on development, and Modi ji has ensured that we have the work to show. It is about action. Not just words. What has not been done in 55 years has been done in 55 months," he said.

In the 2017 Vidhan Sabha election, Chamoli defeated a strong competitor from the Congress, Dinesh Agarwal, and secured nearly 51 per cent of the polled votes. Nishank and other local leaders seemed to weigh in Chamoli's grip in this Assembly constituency. Chamoli gives a spirited speech. His voice seems to cheer up the matrshakti under the tough sun.

He brings an old song from a Bollywood film into public memory to hit at a current context. "Ye duniya nahin jagir kisi ki, Raja hon ya rankk, yahan to sab hain chowkidar."

At his Sankalp Jan Sabha, Nishank used dharm as the point to weave symbolism. Dharampur is ideally the first Vidhan Sabha constituency in the order of milestones from the state capital. On the other end is Rishikesh. Then falls Haridwar. Nishank used the synonym Dharmanagri for Haridwar and connected Dharampur with Dharmanagri. Nishank roared the slogan of "Dharampur Se Dharmanagri", and mentioned the transformation of the popular and unpopular tunnel stretch at the sacred Daat Ki Devi Mandir on the Saharanpur-Delhi highway, and spoke about the upcoming Kumbh and its preaparations.

Even in the midst of caste dynamics, no one seems to ask the other "Kaun jaat ho?" The only common sentiment is Modi. Dharm has taken over caste in the call for "Shankh for Nishank" (the playing of conch for Nishank). Visuals of a sadhu blowing the conch, Ganga in the background, adorned his campaign material. A little of Pauri Garhwal and Tehri Garhwal constituencies rubs on it and leaves its colour on it.

At the Dharampur sabha, members and supporters representing BJP's anusuchit morcha (as per the announcement) got a resounding welcome. So did members and supporters from the minority communities and various caste groups.

Cut to a different pitch. On this particular day in March last week, though people expect CM Trivendra Singh Rawat to be at BJP's state headquarters anytime, another leader walks in. He is Kunwar Parnav Singh Champion - MLA from Khanpur - an assembly seat in Haridwar constituency.

"Champion" as he is popularly known, is also popular for how he carries himself - on the ground and at the morning walk pitch. It is at the morning walk pitch where a businessman I met at the Roorkee-Haridwar highway, gets to see "Champion" off and on. He says, "He is a popular MLA known for his work. He does everything in style and that too keeps people engaged with him. The added factor - of charm and status seems to whip up a good perception combination for him. It will go in Naishank's favour, who is looked at as Modi's representative."

Sporting a moustache thick and rising, a garland of pearls with a locket of BJP's symbol - the lotus - tucked to it, a jacket and gait full of purpose - Champion gives an image of a leader who has it in him to trounce the Congress or BSP with his presence. In the 2017 Vidhan Sabha election he won, defeating BSP's Mufti Riyasat Ali, getting 49.89 per cent vote share. On his birthday recently, Champion's support to Nishank almost doubled the joy for many in the BJP.

At the BJP office, the foyer is packed with "new joining" of local leaders from Pauri Garhwal and Tehri Garhwal. Champion steers through the gathering. He stays for long. Something is on. While at the state office people notice him for who he is, in Khanpur and the following stretch towards Roorkee and towards Haridwar, he seems to have impressed people with how he balances all factors relating to caste, his own stand in the party, and his work, "on his finger tip".

Back to the Jan Sabha at Dharampur. There is a sentence spoken by a party worker. It explains where the BJP is getting the moral fuel to campaign for Nishank. It is all packed in a trunk of victories the party has earned at different levels of local politics since 2014, when Nishank won Haridwar seat defeating Harish Rawat's wife. "Parshad bhi hai, vidhayak bhi hai, mukhyamantri bhi hai, sansad bhi hai, aur mantri bhi hai."

Nilgiri Maharaj, a sadhu at Har Ki Pauri was at the Kumbh in Prayagraj until the previous week. According to Maharaj, sadhus returning from Mahakumbh at Prayagraj would return via Varanasi before converging at Naranjani Akhara, the Akhara he is associated with. "Everyone is upbeat about making Modi win this election as well. He has done good work in all spheres. The impact of the magnificent Maha Kumbh preparations done under Yogi Adityanath will go in his favour."

Raj Kumar is a "mandal mantri" in the Dharampur Gramin Mandal. He and the group of people he walks in with, with the intense beating of dhols, are given a rousing welcome by men on the stage at the sabha. Every one is elated. Raj Kumar is content, because their efforts at Harbaswala and surrounding areas have been successful.

He draws a comparison between past and present for Swarajya. "The previous government...dhandha doosra thha tab sabka paisa kamane ka. Everyone had turned selfish. We were not thinking about others. One thing that joining BJP has taught me is to think about others. Whether it is about their pension issues, their daughter's marriage, house, toilet building, we are thinking about others first."

What is the reason for aligning with the BJP, I ask. He says, "We get respect." How does he define respect? He tries to explain: "You know, in politics, that they can say anything for vote bank and do anything for vote bank. Today, if I contest an election, and you know that until yesterday I was not even willing to have a meal with you, but, today, because I need your vote, I am sitting with you and having a meal with you, you will get to know my real side. Mujhe aapke saath ek jaisa rehna padega aapke saath chalne ke liye. BJP ek jaisee rehti hai."

According to Raj Kumar, "Baaki partiyon ne cadre banaya hua thha. They call BJP a Hindutva party and in the same breath they tell Muslims that this (BJP) is not your party, they tell the dalits that it is not their party."

Another BJP supporter Dr Prabha Jain volunteers to speak for all the women who are flocking to her at the local rally. She says, "Look at the progress the country has made today in the last four years. You will see the difference. Gareeb aadmi bhar pet roti kha raha hai. I was in the 9th standard when I first heard the slogan "Gareebee hatao". We were relieved. Gareebe nahin hatee. Gareeb hatt gaye. I am one of those people who will stand with that person who protects the country."

Chamoli rakes up the past, igniting the issue of gas cylinder availability and delivery and related loop holes. "Hafte mein ek din gas ki supply hoti thhee. People who would buy it in black would be the ones to get the cylinder. Dehaadi majdoori chhod ke vyakti apni line mein lagta thha. You all know and I know that we used to pay Rs 1600 to 1800 to buy a cylinder in black. Today, where I live, there are four vans of gas cylinder doing home delivery of LPG. The LPG resources remain the same. Only the system needed correction."

Raj Kumar reiterates that this election is about saving the county. How would the country be saved? "By bringing back Narendra Modi." He lays it out, "Narendra Modi said that his government would be dedicated to the poor. He never said that his government would be dedicated to a particular caste, or kshetra, he said that he would be with people who are below poverty line. That was the true  'sabka saath sabka vikas'. His government has worked towards it."

Back in Dharampur, Chamoli talked about the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY). "It is only now, this year that I have understood what Ayushmaan really means. When I was a child and used to pay respect to the elders by touching their feet, they would say 'ayushmaan bhav'. It has great symbolic meaning. Trivendra Singh Rawat ji has gone several steps ahead in extending these schemes to the state."

Sunil Rajoria, Sunil Pundir, Yashmod Chaudhary, Ashish Tak, Mukesh Kumar and Rakesh Kambojh and others represent dus samudaaye from the social weave of Haridwar constituency. "We all walk and work in unity. It is only because of Modi."

They say that just the night before they counted 50 solid reasons, including policies and initiatives taken by Modi, that will see youth turning things around this time. "We are people from different castes and we are all fighting to bring Modi back."

So, they talk of nationalism, infrastructure, improving facilities and the The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana etc. "The country is progressing. Pakistan has coiled back owing to tough action from Narendra Modi. So much has been done in infrastructure and railways," they say.

According to them, Congress has "no mudda (no issue)" to fight the election on. On the other hand, they claim, BJP is fighting on a positive note and on positive work done. Nishank will win "nirvirodh, sau per cent".

Another supporter says, "Harish Rawat ji haar gaye thhe pichhlee baar. You must have seen that he has run away from the field."

A well-known spokesperson erects a lofty agenda in his poetry at the Jan Sabha. BJP spokesperson Shadab Shams works up a unique inclusive mantra in Dharampur. The chorus, he instructs is : "Modi ji chahiyein". It will give you a picture about how BJP is trying to fight the number game to the last dot.

Bharat ke Samman ko
Ma bharti ke maan ko
Poore Hindustan ko
Vishwa mein samman ko
Sena Ke Samman ko
Sainikon ke Samman ko
Uttarakhand ki shaan ko
Sanskritik Samman ko
Vishwa mein pehchaan ko
Poore Hindustan ko
Hindu Musalman ko
Rashtra ke samman ko
Beheno ke samman ko

"Kamaal ho gaya, batao, Congress ab bhi nahin samajh rahi ki kya chahiye (it is strange that the Congress still doesn't understand what people want,"  he comments. The crowd bursts into laughter. His shaero-shayari turns heads and emotions among voters.

In Manglaur

Guddi Bhandari and Meena, whom I met at a sugar juice corner in Manglaur, stay in a nearby village. They travel to coaching classes everyday. "The youth, and mostly Jats in our village, are inclined towards the BJP.  Many talk about Digital India."

In Manglaur, all shopkeepers around talk highly of the work being done by Qazi M Nizamuddin,  Congress MLA from this Vidhan Sabha constituency. They sum it up as: "He has got several Baraat Ghar made. He cares for the poor. Doesn't turn anyone away. Has looked into the issue of bad roads. Manglaur vote will get divided between Congress and BSP."

In 2014, BJP's Rishipal Baliyan stood third here with a vote share of nearly 21 per cent. Nizamuddin took 38.75 per cent. The BSP candidate stood between them.

Zahid Ahmad, Ikram and Farat, all working at a Kohlu on the highway near Manglaur, complain that no politician cares for the poor. They ball up warm gur while talking about what a right kind of leader is. "He is the one cares for the nation. The one who takes the poor along. The one who ensures that the hard work done by every individual in this country bears fruit. The one who builds houses." They stop there.

In Jwalapur

In Jwalapur, the incomplete flyover over Singhdwaar irks some. Others say that it is useless to get upset because roads and highways and flyovers are coming up smoothly elsewhere, so will it here. Patience is meted out according to who likes Modi and who doesn't. Local governance and cleanliness, especially the cleaning of drains is of importance to people here.

In Haridwar

In Haridwar, Manoj Kaushik gets so passionate while talking about Modi that I pray he doesn't get a cut from the barber's razor. "Sher ka bachcha hai Narendra Modi. There is no question of any other person winning from Haridwar except Modi through Nishank."

Anyone who approaches him with a "50-50" guess is quickly pounced upon with harsh words. Kaushik manages to debate without cuts to his cheek, but can't manage to use extremely gentle words for Modi's opponents.

Har Ki Pauri sees a tumultuous support for Modi unfolding.  Everyone - from hawkers to safai karmchaaris to pandas, to devotees, to tea-stall owners to gems sellers to sadhus to, perhaps, even the seemingly cleaner Ganga, seem to be flowing in the same direction. Same is the case in Rishikesh, where Trivendra Singh Rawat's magic is spreading into a different constituency.

Some businessmen in Haridwar and Rishikesh did not want to share their names and said that Modi has improved life on all fronts. "I have been going to the Ghats since I was a child, even now I begin my day with an offering to Ganga. Tremendous change in last five years. GST eases things,  unlike the perception media created. Look at the cleanliness by yourself. A certain discipline has come into the system.  Corruption has been flattened. I am no security expert. But I feel so proud of the tough decisions taken recently," says a merchant at Har ki Paudi.

A first-time voter and businessman dealing in the sale of rudraksh and rudraksh products in Rishikesh makes his two-wheeler his stage, to deliver his passion for Modi, so delightfully. "Our dads are still Congress supporters, but we are whole-heartedly with Modi. He has done for the country what no one has - whether in security or development or even with GST."

Two pandaas in Haridwar's Har ki Paudi even recite shlokas for Modi. And you wonder if Nishank and his main opponent Kumar would fight a different battle for themselves.

Doiwala, where the MLA and Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat enjoy a good support from most farmers and families of defence personnel - retired and serving - is looking at repeating the 2017 Vidhan Sabha feat. Infrastructure - in terms of roads and flyovers completed between Dharampur and Doiwala is another positive running for BJP.

Finally, Yogi Adityanath, Trivendra Singh Rawat, Nitin Gadkari, and Narendra Modi are the faces emerging behind Nishank. The Mahakumbh, work done on the Ganga and its ghats, the Ganga emotion, the approaching Kumbh, surgical strikes, GST comfort, direct beneficiaries of schemes - seen as 10 lakh, the pitch to preserve Dharmanagri, and from there, the protection of the country's dharma are emotions that seem to be giving Nishank an edge.

Anyone who makes a "50-50" prediction sensing a tough fight from Congress, jaati bhed, and opposition to Nishank, gets offered tea.

I don't like making electoral guesses. I like the smell emanating from the ground around Ganga and see it emanating in numbers. Let Uttarakhand decide, let Dharmanagri lead.

This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on issues and constituencies the old media largely refuses to engage. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999. Click here for more details.

Sumati Mehrishi is Senior Editor, Swarajya. She tweets at @sumati_mehrishi 

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