The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the Kedarnath seat in the 2022 assembly election in Uttarakhand. Shaila Rani Rawat, a BJP candidate from Kedarnath has defeated her rival from Congress Manoj Rawat and Kuldeep Singh Rawat, an independent candidate. The BJP has won 47 seats in the hill state, against 19 won by Congress, two by the Bahujan Samaj Party and two by independents.
By Sumati Mehrishi
In the 2017 assembly election, which was considered a ‘wave election’ owing to the emergence of BJP at the Centre in 2014 and the seering popularity of Narendra Modi in the hill state beginning 2013, Shaila Rani Rawat was defeated by Manoj Rawat.
Kedarnath Vidhan Sabha lies in Rudraprayag district. It falls in the Pauri Garhwal Lok Sabha seat which has been dominated by the BJP. In contrast, the Kedarnath seat itself has been dominated by the Congress. The BJP was trying to change that. Shaila Rani Rawat, a woman leader, was consistently placed by the BJP as a challenger to the Congress. The BJP has succeeded in breaching the dominance of Congress at the Kedarnath seat in 2022.
The results of 2017 speak of how intensely fought the Kedarnath seat is in the scenario that emerged after the 2013 floods, when Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat took a firm step forward towards Uttarakhand along with a helping hand. There were several micro events taking place in the background in the lives of people from the region. Among the people affected by the devastating floods of 2013 were pilgrims from different parts of India and locals.
Several families living in the villages of Rudraprayag district had lost their earning members and women found themselves pushed to the role-swap as heads of family. Naturally, contestants to the assembly election want to hold a mirror to the issues, problems and challenges people of the region have faced since 2013. Outmigration is one of the prime issues at the seat.
When Prime Minister Modi intensified the series of interventions and work at the Kedarnath Dham, it was understood that all the work would go towards securing the Dham-related life within the efforts to transform temple life — directly or indirectly. Collecting the pebbles and beads of improvement in the temple life would be people of the region, including women. Yet, 2017, in the electoral response to the Kedarnath assembly seat, welcomed Congress.
In 2014, the BJP came to power at the Centre and former chief minister of Uttarakhand Major General (Retired) Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri won the Pauri Garhwal seat. Modi’s interventions in the flood-affected Kedarnath, by bringing in rehabilitation and restoration efforts in the region, began.
Between 2017 and 2022, in five years marked by three elections (Lok Sabha 2019 the third), Modi’s visits to Kedarnath followed by the development and rehab projects, instilled hope in women. Hope for better lives, hope for livelihood — even when and if they are not directly connected to temple life here owing to the distance (and related geographical factors) of their village/s from the Kedarnath Dham.
Shaila Rani Rawat would be and should be expected to bridge several gaps that directly address lives, livelihood, health and connectivity issues, by working with former chief minister Teerath Singh Rawat who was elected as Garhwal member of Parliament in 2019.
The assembly poll of 2022 is a sweet victory for Shaila Rani Rawat herself. In the 2017 assembly election, she stood fourth in the tally — at 11,472 votes (20.67 per cent votes secured), with Manoj Rawat as winner — at 13,906 (25.06 per cent votes secured). In 2017, there were two independent candidates, one of them a woman candidate, placed between Manoj Rawat and Shaila Rani Rawat in the results. The BJP’s confidence in Shaila Rani Rawat to continue her fight to win, cannot be missed.
There are women leaders from the BJP who have fought battles tougher than Shaila Rani Rawat in 2022. Tickets being given in the last list, constituencies swapped, tickets given in a constituency that stayed in news for all negative reasons, predecessor’s baggage, challenges emerging from independent candidates particularly to the BJP, rough sociological factors, and several other odds have marked the fight of women candidates from her party in 2022.
Women leaders among the winners of 2022 from Uttarakhand BJP have shown that they take the task of getting out of comfort zones (more on this in another article) as seen in the party’s performance in 2022. Shaila Rani Rawat’s challenges were of a different kind.
She had to head out with confidence to defeat Manoj Rawat of Congress in an election where the BJP was facing voices and shifts of the assumed anti-incumbency. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami came into the picture for a pivotal role in solving the tangle — of the prickly issue of the shrine board and promised priests at the Kedarnath Dham that he will resolve issues related to the board. Dhami walked in as the representative of the BJP — as the other keeper of the local sentiments. In the first week of November, he worked on a November-end deadline to resolve this issue.
Dhami had to make a promise. He had to place an assurance in order to persuade the pujaris not to go ahead with their protest against the shrine board issue during the visit of Modi. This wasn’t a perfect situation for anyone aspiring to fight from the assembly seat from the BJP. Thanks to Dhami’s courage and efforts, the issue was resolved. The priests had reportedly said that they would intensify protests against the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board — which was the body meant to regulate temples.
Shaila Rani Rawat was given a ticket by the BJP once again. She would have to stand firm against the number game rolled over to her by an independent candidate, in order to emerge a winner.
This time, a win for the BJP would involve keeping up the momentum of the people’s sentiment for Modi, taking along the momentum of the popularity on Modi, and being able to make use of the goodwill that the double-engine sarkar‘s work has brought to the district and the Kedarnath Dham in particular.
In 2022, she has got 21,886 votes in all, and stands at 36.04 per cent. Manoj Rawat of Congress was the third in the contest this time, with 12,557 votes — at 20.68 per cent vote share and Kuldeep Singh Rawat coming second at 13,423 votes (22.11 per cent vote share). Shaila Rani Rawat, now, has the chance to emerge as an administrator besides being a fighter.
She has the opportunity to be the women representative of that emotion and sentiment that people and women of the Kedarnath region hold for Narendra Modi — a reflection of which has emerged in the response to this woman candidate in 2022. She has the moment to become the new face of Kedarnath walking alongside the work of Prime Minister Modi, for the uplifting of lives and families in the region.
This article first appeared in www.swarajyamag.com and it belongs to them.