DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand’s Sitarganj constituency is set for a face-off between Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna and BJP candidate Prakash Pant in the July 8 byelection. The assembly seat considered to be traditionally a BJP stronghold accounts for about 95,000 votes.
According to poll observers, Bengali voters who account for 29,000 out of total 95,000 voters will play a key role in influencing the overall poll scenario.
The seat was declared vacant on May 23 after former BJP Legislator Kiran Mandal resigned paving the way for Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna to contest. The BJP had attacked the Congress for allegedly weaning away its MLA. Bahuguna, currently a parliamentarian from Tehri, needs to be elected as a Congress legislator before completion of six months in office for him to continue as the chief minister of the state.
Campaigning is yet to gather momentum in the constituency. However the Congress is hopeful of getting the support of the predominantly Bengali electorate in the constituency. The party is hoping for a win as it believes that Bahuguna has addressed long-standing demands of the voters. The BJP meanwhile is trying to bolster negative sentiment against the Congress by accusing it of horsetrading.
Crucial demands of Bengali voters which were addressed by Congress candidate Vijay Bahuguna included getting ownership rights on agricultural land, setting up of a post-graduate degree college as well a community and primary health centers in the constituency.
The state BJP dubbed Bahuguna’s attempt to get ownership rights for Bengali voters as “misleading”. The party said that as per the Government grant act, it was prohibited to give free-hold rights. “Bengali voters are an aware lot. Bahuguna cannot lure us in this manner”, said a 67-year-old Bengali voter in Sitarganj.
Senior state BJP leaders B S Chuphal and Ajay Bhatt said their campaign would gain momentum from Thursday after the arrival of the party’s top brass. BJP chief Nitin Gadkari and senior party leaders including Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Murli Manohar Joshi and Rajnath Singh are expected to campaign.
Congress candidate Vijay Bahuguna who filed his nomination papers on May 13 has been cobbling up support by interacting with voters in pre-dominantly Bengali pockets of the constituency.
Apart from 29,000 Bengali voters, there are 16,000 Muslim and OBC voters and 8000 Pahari voters of the total 95,000 voters in the constituency.