As Uttarakhand is ready to vote on February 14, the political parties are trying hard to cover issues of utmost importance in their manifesto in order to woo voters. With all the opinion polls showing a neck-to-neck fight between the BJP and the Congress with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also making entry, no political party wants to leave any stone unturned in order to win.
In the midst of all this, the voters are also asking the contesting candidates to ensure that certain issues are addressed by the parties. Among the most important issue is that of unemployment, as the dearth of government jobs in Uttarakhand has made it really difficult for the youngsters to earn a living.
In a recent survey released by the National Statistical Office (NSO), it was found that nearly one-third of youth in Uttarakhand is unemployed.
In the periodic labour force survey released for the September-December 2020 quarter by NSO, it was found that nearly 27% of people between the age group of 15-29 are unemployed and this is higher than the national average of 25%. This is despite the fact that the working-age population has seen a 14% rise in the last five years.
Not only this it was also found that around 35% of women are unemployed as compared to 25% of men, revealing a gender disparity in the unemployment statistics.
However, as there are nearly 50% voters in the age group of 18-40 the political parties are trying hard to please the young population of the Himalayan state.
In their manifesto, the AAP announced various measures including a guarantee of Rs.5000 per month to every unemployed youth until they are able to find a job. Even Congress, in their manifesto, announced that ‘either a government job or employment through government projects will be provided to each person from one family in Uttarakhand’.
An outcome of unemployment has been an increase in migration from hilly areas in search of better employment opportunities. In a research paper released recently on the ‘out-migration in Uttarakhand Himalaya: its types, reasons and consequences’ it was found that nearly 734 villages got depopulated as people moved from mountainous districts to urban centres.
Not only this, close to 367 villages have seen a population decline by 50%.
The migration of people from several villages in Uttarakhand’s Tehri Garhwal district has resulted in several villages becoming ghost towns. The official report by the Uttarakhand migration commission says the exodus of locals is a huge challenge in areas like Tikari, Bageshwar, Chamoli, Rudraprayag, and Paudi in the Garhwal region.
Lack of proper healthcare and educational facilities is also another reason why people migrate from hilly areas. During labour pain or in a serious health emergency, people often have to be carried on locally made stretchers for a minimum of about 5-10 km in order to get some treatment.
This is also the reason why people are demanding an improvement in healthcare facilities. Even the opposition parties in Uttarakhand have been targeting the ruling BJP government for the covid mismanagement during the second wave and the organisation of the Kumbh Mela when people were dying because of the dearth of oxygen.
During the Kumbh festival, about 9.1 million people took a holy dip in Haridwar, at least six million of them in April at the peak of the devastating second wave of the pandemic. The Uttarakhand High Court criticised the government for allowing the massive gathering to take place.
However, the BJP government denies that the situation went out of control during the second wave. Further, they say that medical infrastructure was improved during the pandemic. From increasing the number of oxygen plants, oxygen cylinders, and hospital beds, BJP claims that not only they were able to control the outbreak of the virus but also advanced their medical facilities.
However, challenges for the ruling BJP don’t end here as changing of three Chief Ministers (CM) in the last five years is another issue that has been haunting them.
This became very clear when Congress highlighted this issue in one of their campaign slogans which said ‘Teen Tigada, Kaam Bigada, Uttarakhand Main Nahi Aayegi BJP Dobara’ (BJP messed up by changing three chief ministers, it won’t come to power again).
This whole scene started when in March 2021, then CM Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned when a section of party MLAs expressed dissatisfaction over his style of functioning. After this Tirath Singh Rawat, was chosen as the next CM but even he had to resign within a span of four months over covid mismanagement and a slew of other issues.
It was after this when finally Pushkar Singh Dhami finally became CM. However, it will be quite difficult for the 45-year-old from Kumaon, who was never even a minister before becoming chief minister to take on Harish Rawat, who still continues to be the preferred face for the post of CM.
Attack on Minorities
Another issue that the minorities in Uttarakhand have continuously been raising is the increase in attacks on them. From a church being getting attacked, to a Dharam Sansad being organised which openly called for genocide of the Muslim community, the past three months have been quite disturbing for the minorities
Adding to this has been the silence by the ruling BJP over the hate speeches that were given out in open in Haridwar by Hindu monks. It was only after the government faced a severe backlash on social media that some people who make incendiary speeches were arrested.
Despite this, the way an event like Dharam Sansad was allowed in the holy city of Haridwar for two days, is definitely going to dent the support by the minorities for the ruling BJP. It is to be noted here that there are close to 19% Dalits, 14% Muslims and 3% Sikhs in Uttarakhand which makes a considerable impact on the government formation.
Now the extent to which these issues will impact the result of the election is something that will become clear on March 10, when the results will be declared.