“How Much Has Any Other Politician Done?” — In The Hills Of Pauri Garhwal, Women Voters Stand Solidly In Modi’s Support

Sumati Mehrishi

Apr 17, 2024, 08:31 PM | Updated Apr 18, 2024, 12:54 PM IST

A beneficiary of Centre's free ration and Ayushman Bharat schemes in Pauri Garhwal asks a youth for help (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
A beneficiary of Centre's free ration and Ayushman Bharat schemes in Pauri Garhwal asks a youth for help (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
  • Ground report from Uttarakhand's Pauri Garhwal, where Tirath Singh Rawat has made way for Anil Baluni on the BJP's ticket and Congress has fielded Ganesh Godiyal.
  • There was a point at PM Narendra Modi’s rally in Rishikesh on 11 April when the crowds passing through the two metal detectors summed up the two emotions converging for him and 2024. At the first metal detector, women shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Modi teri jai jai-kaar,’ and at the second, a large group of ex-servicemen shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, squeezed through the vertical rectangles. 

    On 16 April, this writer witnessed the replication of the same moment in Kotdwar – the gateway to Pauri Garhwal. On that day, the BJP candidate here, Anil Baluni — known for donating life-saving equipment to improve health infrastructure in Chamoli, for his cultural initiatives to build bigger celebrations of local festivals and worship, and his focus on fighting ‘palayan’ – migration from Uttarakhand — would welcome Amit Shah for the BJP campaign and rally. 

    In the same event, former Member of Parliament Tirath Singh Rawat urged voters from the constituency to give Baluni a larger winning margin than Rawat himself got in 2019. 

    Baluni will likely win comfortably. More important than the margin Baluni gets or the vote share he manages to accumulate, would be how he uses his new role towards meeting the growing demand for central schools, better health infrastructure, employment opportunities within the state, and curbing palayan

    Ex-servicemen participating in BJP’s campaign on the ground are ensuring that their trust in Modi is communicated on the ground amid the criticism of the Agniveer scheme.  

    Group of BJP-supporting ex-servicemen in Pauri Garhwal (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Group of BJP-supporting ex-servicemen in Pauri Garhwal (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    Sharmila Negi, a voter from Kotdwar came to attend Amit Shah’s rally in the Pauri Garhwal constituency on 16 April. She told this writer: “The BJP seems to have put deep thought into giving us good candidates, particularly Anil Baluni. Congress has the wrong people in the party. One of the prime reasons for people’s trust in PM Modi is his respect for the martyrs of the Indian Army and serving soldiers. Pehle unki bekadree hoti thee (they were not treated well).” 

    Voters' ‘Mann Mein Ghar’ Connection 

    After 2013, the year when the Kedarnath floods led to the redefining of political intervention in the region, Pauri Garhwal voted to bring the change it required. The people of Pauri Garhwal gave Modi the freedom to think and envision change and development in the state. 

    Besides the welfare and health schemes directly improving the lives of women, their household, and the hills, Modi has been able to gain a solid connection with this constituency owing to his repeated visits to the Kedarnath temple, the building of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and his decisions on national security. Women voters told this writer that Modi has made “mann mein ghar” – a room in their hearts. 

    Nirmala Devi told this writer: “The best and the biggest duty he is fulfilling is protecting this nation and making it secure. That alone protects our household. Agar yeh desh nahin hai to kuchh nahin hai. The nation is everything for us. This is the sole reason we always support him.”

    Women voters especially gave the BJP two consecutive governments in the state assembly. Two Lok Sabha polls and two Vidhan Sabha polls held in the states between 2014 and 2022 saw Pauri Garhwal reinforcing its significance as a district and constituency by contributing wins, winners and decision-makers.

    The Eyes On Fight Against ‘Palayan’

    Babli Gosain, a homemaker lives in Narendranagar. The youngest among her four sons is enrolled at the local polytechnic college for a three-year course. Another son is employed at a local wellness and yoga resort. She is content that her sons seem on track with opportunities, work and education - all due to their efforts - within their state. “A lot is changing in the region for the youth and women due to the Modi government's efforts,” she says.  

    Raju Bharti has been driving a commercial four-wheeler – popularly known as 'trecker' in Uttarakhand, for nearly three decades. He has seen changes rolling along the miles during the last 10 years. He says, “All work done by Modi has been towards public welfare. The biggest achievement of PM Modi in our region is that his work has helped in reducing palayan. Palayan ek hadd tak kam hua hai. Mahilaayon ko samman mila hai wo is sarakar mein mila hai. All-weather road is sarkar mein hui, kabhi nahin hui."

    In Tehri Garhwal, Bharti has driven to Yamunotri and Gangotri. On the Pauri Garhwal side, he has covered Badrinath and Kedarnath. This has given him a view of the transformation on a day-to-day basis.

    He is upbeat about the road infrastructure. He adds, “Earlier, the roads were known for potholes. The roads were not wide at all. That would lead to jams. It was difficult and tiring to drive. In patches, the nature of roads would lead to sliding. We used to be in fear. There used to be long traffic jams and the constant fear of rocks tumbling down on us and our vehicles. All these problems haven't gone completely, but are being taken care of and have reduced to a great extent.”

    Bharti points that the sincerity towards road construction and maintenance has improved. “Earlier, these jobs were done as a formality. Work once done would never be rechecked or a follow-up done. All that has changed. Today, if a road needs work, the follow-up happens and it is checked and watched for the next six months.” 

    The prickly and critical issues the BJP government faced in the region, those man-made and propelled by nature — including the issue of Joshimath, the issue of flash floods and devastation in Raini village, the controversy surrounding the declaration of Gairsain as the third commissionerate, the subsequent resignation of Trivendra Singh Rawat as chief minister of the state before he could even finish his term, the critical lack of political dominance in Badrinath, the Char Dham road debate — Pauri Garhwal witnessed the resolution of all. 

    Pauri Garhwal, the seat of Uttarakhand's leadership known for giving the state several chief ministers and Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat, may well be preparing itself to welcome Baluni as its MP.

    BJP is expecting huge margins in some Vidhan Sabha segments. In 2022 state polls, in Lansdowne, the BJP secured a 59.18 per cent vote share against the 35.35 of Congress.

    In Badrinath, Rajendra Singh Bhandari, who recently shifted to the BJP had secured 47.88 per cent vote share as the winner from Congress.

    The only seat that slipped from the BJP among Vidhan Sabha constituencies in the Pauri Garhwal. Senior leader from BJP, Mahendra Bhatt could get 44.85 per cent vote share against Bhandari in this election. 

    BJP now hopes to harness their combined strengths. 

    Next, In Tharali, the BJP was strong in the 2022 Vidhan Sabha poll with 51.66 vote share. 

    In Kedarnath, the BJP is known to have an edge under the leadership of Shaila Rani Rawat. 

    In Pauri (SC), the BJP got a stamp of assurance from the voters winning 52.6 percent vote share. 

    Narendranagar saw Subodh Uniyal edging past Congress with 47.83 per cent vote share.     

    SHG strengths – Potent Thread In Women’s Support For Modi

    As stated in the article on Tehri Garhwal by this writer, women voters' praise for the Self Help Group (SHG) network and intervention is a potent added thread in Uttarakhand in 2024. It is popping up in praises for Modi and his work in Pauri Garhwal as well. 

    Article Hero Image
    Article Hero Image
    Women at BJP's Kotdwar rally (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    Women at BJP's Kotdwar rally (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    A BJP supporter at Amit Shah's rally at Kotdwar Women at BJP's Kotdwar rally (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    A BJP supporter at Amit Shah's rally at Kotdwar Women at BJP's Kotdwar rally (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    On the ground in Pauri Garhwal (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)
    On the ground in Pauri Garhwal (Image credit: Sumati Mehrishi)

    The several women this writer met at PM Modi’s rally held in Rishikesh said that the “samooh” is a great binder – financial, emotional, social as well as political. 

    Mamta Devi’s four years of hardships have the mention of the “samooh” bringing a smile to her face. She proudly states that she is the “adhyaksh” of one such samooh. “PM Modi’s work is encouraging. But more encouraging are his encouragement and words for women. They push me to do a great deal.” 

    When Mamta made the untimely shift from Himachal Pradesh to Uttarakhand with her family to Amsod village in Dugadda, Pauri Garhwal, in the wake of the outbreak of Covid-19, little did she know that her husband would face hardships at his own home and from his own dear ones. 

    Her husband was working at a unit of a pharmaceutical company in Baddi. The salary was good. Today, he has to work as a daily wage labourer.

    “My three children, my husband and I were not welcome at his own parental home. We had to shift out of my in-laws’ place across the road and live in this rented house. I put my training in stitching and a sewing machine to good use,” Mamta said.

    She was stitching a printed ‘kurta’ for a customer when this writer met her. “There are several samoohs in a single village. Women take financial help from the samooh and return the money. They use the money they borrow to build their work and lives. I am gradually learning the ropes and will do better through the samooh,” she added. 

    Guddi Devi lives near the Devi temple in Neelkanth near Rishikesh. "Every woman in the region has some or the other benefit coming from PM Modi. He is hard working - the reason why so much work is happening. How much has any other politician done?"

    She is a bank sakhi. Then emerges another SHG story. "I am associated with a samooh (SHG). Women have reaped huge benefits from the samooh. Koi kisi se karza maangne nahin jata ab. I opened my own shop of 'chai paani khana peena (snacks and tea)' with money borrowed from the samooh. Currently, I have Rs 4 lakh from the samooh, which I will eventually return."

    Modi Is Nurturing Women’s Health  

    There is no dearth of problems in Kamlesh Devi’s life, but there is one government intervention that makes her patient with her circumstances.

    She runs a small shop selling general items in Dugadda block. She uses her widow pension to run the household and channelises the savings to acquire material for the shop. During summer, she tries to get the maximum sales at the shop. During the rainy season, she shifts to her relative’s house in Kotdwar. 

    She points to a spot on the hill where her house is situated and says, “Imagine what happens there during the rainy season. I live in constant fear of the house crumbling under the rain and rocks. I have four daughters. My son works on a daily wage by cooking meals and other chores at weddings and even that is not enough for us, but we are working towards sustaining ourselves after the death of my husband some years ago. I am a heart patient.” 

    How does she manage her health expenditure?  “I have the Ayushman health card that spares me the expenditure at hospitals. I have used it a few times now and have not spent anything from my pocket. It is one great source of relief to us.” 

    Rukmini Devi from Neelkanth believes that Modi is nurturing women. “Paal rahe hain humko (Modi is nurturing us).”

    Pramod Uniyal, a resident of Narendranagar says that the biggest intervention from Modi is the Ayushman card. "That alone has altered the lives of people in the hills.

    TB, cancer, surgeries, and several other concerns are being addressed for those who could not afford it. It is free of cost. Health was a big issue here. Modi got AIIMS. The double engine (state and centre governments led by the BJP) has transformed lives in the hills by addressing public health."

    Women, the nurturers of households in the upper district constituency of Pauri Garhwal will likely empower the man they address as their own “nurturer.”

    This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on themes and topics that are often overlooked or looked down. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as ₹2999. Click here for more details.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.


    A road trip through the poorest regions of India — its heartland