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The Indian Express : Polls 2002
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Thursday, February 14, 2002

Koshiyari rocks his party’s boat in Tehri waters


TEHRI, FEBRUARY 13: Old Tehri town might be fated to die soon, but all the water in the proposed dam has not dampened the spirit of politics here. Both voters and parties are taking what is possibly the last election here seriously — a seriousness much in evidence when Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed a meeting here on Sunday in front of an estimated 30,000-strong crowd. BJP stalwarts Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj have also paid visits to the area, speaking to crowds which were just partially thinner.

With 14 candidates vying for the support of the more than 86,000 voters in the constituency, the contest here is following much the same pattern as the rest of Uttaranchal. A stiff battle between the BJP and Congress, with the CPI and a rebel BJP candidate thrown in for good measure. At the outer edge of the political spectrum is an association of those who will ultimately have to leave their homes once the dam is operational in a year’s time. In a scenario where candidates could win or lose by a thousand votes, the key to Tehri’s assembly seat could well lie with these families, which total up to 8,761 votes.

Congress candidate Kishor Upadhyay is quite confident he will corner most of these votes. The Congress manifesto has made several promises to those affected by the building of the dam, including job for at least one member from each family uprooted from Tehri. ‘‘The demands of the people for a better deal from the dam authorities and their disenchantment with the government are totally legitimate,’’ he says.

The BJP naturally contests this claim. ‘‘Rehabilitation is going smoothly,’’ a party office-bearer says. ‘‘The people are with us, they realise the value of having a BJP government in the state and the Centre.’’

The BJP’s bigger headache, though, is the reported statement of Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari that the dam is almost complete and that only labourers remained in Old Tehri since all the families there have been rehabilitated. ‘‘Our vote is in anger after this statement,’’ says Radha Bisht, one of those not rehabilitated yet.

‘‘This is Koshiyari’s hoshiyari,’’ adds an agitated Shailendra Nautiyal, a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) worker and one of the leaders of the association of families unhappy with the rehabilitation process. ‘‘He even told the Prime Minister that Old Tehri is deserted,’’ Nautiyal alleges.

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