Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna takes advantage of votes from Bengali migrants to the state, and wins handsomely at the bye-elections. India Empire tracks his journey 
By Anjay Sinha in Uttarakhand 
It is only the privileged candidate who knows that he’s sure to earn a victory in the political arena even before a single vote has been cast.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna who recently contested a by-election from Sitarganj similarly knew that victory was assured way before the actual elections were held. His victory margin of 39,954 votes over his nearest BJP rival bears testimony to how far ahead he was in the race for winning the seat.

Mr Bahuguna was a Lok Sabha Member from Tehri Garhwal, but required to be elected as a Congress legislator before the completion of six months in office for him to continue as CM. Following the closely-contested assembly elections at Uttarkhand, he’d been handpicked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi for the CM’s job and had to stave off a bitter revolt within the party and some serious muscle-flexing before he could eventually settle down in the coveted chair.

According to political analysts, Mr Bahuguna’s seat-selection itself was a political “master-stroke.” The seat had fallen vacant after BJP’s sitting MLA Kiran Mandal had resigned and joined Congress ahead of election. The Sitarganj constituency, which falls in the Udhamsingh Nagar District, is dominated by Bengali and Muslim population. There are around 30,000 Bengalis, considered ‘outsiders’ in the state dominated by hill communities. Since the Bengali population is concentrated in one particular area, it always plays a key role in shaping the destiny of the candidates. Last time during the state’s assembly election, BJP had fielded Kiran Mandal from the Bengali community and he had won comfortably.

Despite being 10 Janpath’s man for the job, the High Court judge-turned-politician could not take the by-election lightly. He had to win big, and show that he indeed was the boss. In order to make a serious impression on the Bengali voters he invited Deepa Dasmunshi, Congress MP from West Bengal who is wife of senior Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi. Mrs Dasmunshi campaigned extensively in the Shakti Farm area of Sitarganj and consolidated things further for the Congress. The voter turnout was a very impressive 76 per cent.

While Mrs Dasmunshi’s emotional connect paved the way for a large slice of the vote bank going in favour of the CM, Mr Bahugana’s own goodwill helped him sway things further. Now expectations at Sitarganj are high. The Bengali population would want their long-pending demand for land ownership to be taken up seriously (Uttarakhand does not allow outsiders to own agricultural land in the state). To cement his bonding, the CM has to find a way.

August 2012

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