Yogi, civil code in BJP last dash; Congress sees the desperation
THE LAST day of campaigning for the Uttarakhand Assembly elections was marked by two firsts: the promise of a uniform civil code by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami; and the appearance of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for the BJP’s first and only day in the state.
The Congress sees this as both a last-minute attempt at polarization by the BJP and a sign of the party’s desperation.
As well as promising to introduce a uniform civil code in the event of a return to power – at a time when a row over the wearing of hijab by students in class in Karnataka is brewing – Dhami also repeated the BJP’s refrain that a Congress government would set up a Muslim University in the state.
Congress Organizing General Secretary Mathura Dutt Joshi said the BJP’s frustration was growing and with “no work to show” it was trying such “desperate” measures. Joshi said even Adityanath’s speeches, in Tehri and Kotdwar, made no waves. The UP CM spoke of Kanwariyas “freely eliminating Kanwar Yatra” under its government and accused the Congress of “disrespecting” Hindus. “If in Devbhoomi (Uttarakhand), someone does not know the definition of Hinduism, that party should not be allowed to be in power,” Adityanath said.
Incidentally, he also let slip that a rally of his own in Uttarakhand amid bitter UP elections was a last minute plan.
Apart from the relief that the BJP unveiled both the Uniform Civil Code and Adityanath perhaps too late, Congress believes it also dodged a bullet by refusing to engage with the BJP on these issues throughout countryside. Party leaders said there were strict instructions to avoid any controversial statements and, after the BJP’s Uniform Civil Code pledge, to give no feedback.
Among the issues he sidestepped was the Dharma Sansad held last December in Haridwar, where hate speeches were made. The BJP government has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue, but Congress has not made a big deal out of it.
Earlier this month, the party immediately asked the Election Commission to ensure a warning to the BJP of Uttarakhand after the party’s Twitter account allegedly shared a tweaked photo of former Chief Minister Harish Rawat portrayed as a Muslim cleric.
Congress acted on clues it picked up in 2017. At the time, the BJP brought in Adityanath – not yet the UP CM but influential due to his roots in Uttarakhand and being the head of the Gorakhnath Mutt – to campaign in the home stretch in neighborhoods like Udham Singh Nagar, Haridwar, Dehradun. While the BJP had swept through Uttarakhand amid a Modi wave, Congress believes Adityanath hurt them badly in those areas and was a factor in defeating Harish Rawat of the Kichha seats (Udham Singh Nagar) and Haridwar Rural.
Congress leaders say Adityanath could have benefited the BJP again this time if its events had been planned in areas like Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Badrinath, Kedarnath or Srinagar – places close to the Modi government’s Chardham project. Apart from religious association, the BJP has propagated it as part of its big development push for the state, with eco-impact fears not much of an icebreaker among voters.
A senior Congress official said, “The most important thing is that the party this time gave no opportunity to the BJP to take hold of any issue. It was our plan from the very beginning. All leaders and spokespersons were given strict instructions to say nothing controversial. I remember that before his visit to the state, top leader Digvijaya Singh was also given clear instructions not to give the BJP any chance of polarization.
The leader added that there were fears that the BJP’s bogey of Muslim University could turn away some voters, especially given the way the BJP pushed it, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi having raised it in his speech. “But, we refused to talk much and clearly asked the BJP to show if there was such a promise in our manifesto. People quickly realized that this was a baseless allegation.
He said the BJP had also tried other allegations, such as claiming that Harish Rawat had announced a public holiday on Friday for namaz. In an interview with The Indian Express, Rawat had said that was completely out of the question, and “no government could support such a thing”, nor was there a demand for it.
As part of the same strategy, congressional sources said, he avoided gatherings of his Muslim leaders in the state. The State Unit has advised against planned events for Congress Minority Department Chairman and Urdu poet Imran “Pratapgarhi” and top leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in some seats in Dehradun and Haridwar. “We made sure that the speeches of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were also very balanced,” a party leader said.
Denying accusations of polarization, BJP spokesman Shadab Shams said it was Congress that started it with its “plans for a Muslim university” and was now playing the “victim card”, and that the BJP was obliged to react, even if it was at the last moment.
“Regarding the Uniform Civil Code, with Ram Mandir and Article 370, it has always been an electoral issue for us… There is nothing wrong with bringing a Uniform Civil Code to the state to ensure its beauty and its culture.