DEHRADUN: As the election campaign reaches a peak in Uttarakhand, the million dollar question is which way will the defence vote go? With thousands of ex-servicemen and families of serving defence personnel present among the 76 lakh voters in the state, both BJP and Congress are leaving no stone unturned to woo them.
The state, with 70 Assembly constituencies, goes to the polls on February 15.
“Places like Pithoragarh, Chamoli, Lansdowne (home to the Garhwal Rifles), Dehradun and Almora have high concentrations of voters with links to the services. With such huge numbers, it is obvious that political parties will do everything possible to woo us,” said a retired soldier Madan Rawat, a resident of Chamoli district.
With just that idea, former chief minister B C Khanduri, a former general, is campaigning extensively for the BJP in Garhwal where the maximum number of serving and retired defence personnel and their families live.
The Congress too has fielded three candidates who served in the armed forces -- Ranjeet Rawat, T P Rawat and S S Negi. But analysts say the Congress has not had the kind of impact that the BJP has had despite the fact that it has the support of several ex-servicemen groups who oppose the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme in its present form.
Leading the BJP campaign, Khanduri addresses the OROP square on, emphasizing that 90 per cent of retired personnel have already benefited from it so far and more would do so in the time to come.
The BJP also makes much of the fact that the new Army Chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, is from Uttarakhand, the first officer from the state to rise to that rank.
Congress candidates, on the other hand, try to pick holes in the Centre's implementation of OROP, saying it was not to the satisfaction of the veterans. The party is being backed by some organisations of ex-servicemen who point out discrepancies in the Centre's version of OROP. ''We reject OROP in its present form. The Centre has cheated us as it did not include several other demands,'' says Anil Kumar, an ex-serviceman living in Dehradun.
“The fauji vote is crucial to both political parties but the general feeling is that the BJP has an advantage because the Modi government made some movement on OROP. Also, the Sept. 29 surgical strikes and the appointment of Uttarakhandis to top security posts is certainly to play on the minds of defence personnel,'' says Dehradun-based political analyst Triloknath Rawat.
The Fauji Vote: Key Inputs
Total no. of voters: 76 lakh
Defence vote: 2.50 lakh
Serving personnel: 80,000
Ex-servicemen: 1.40 lakh
Widows of veterans: 38,000
Paramilitary personnel: 50,000