|Schoolkids play with Congress stickers in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday. (PTI)
Put your money on the wife and get the husband for free. Renuka Rawat has come up with something she thinks is the perfect counter to Narendra Modi’s so-called Gujarat model of development.
All that voters in Uttarakhand need to do, she says, is make her an MP; the rest will be taken care of by her chief minister husband Harish Rawat.
It’s like “Buy one, get one free”, she explains. And hurry, the offer closes on May 7.
If there’s a distinct marketing ring to elections in this holy city, Renuka is its unabashed bugle.
“Yahan to buy one get one free hai. Renuka Rawat MP aur mukhyamantri free (it is buy one get one free here. Make Renuka Rawat MP and get the chief minister free),” the Congress nominee from the Haridwar parliamentary seat told a small crowd at Ganeshpur in Roorkee town as campaigning for the May 7 elections ended on Monday.
Renuka, 54, has been saying this at every campaign speech. “Surf nabbe rupaiya ka, aur uske saath ek Rin ki tikia free (a Surf washing powder pack for Rs 90 with a Rin bar free),” she adds, just in case there is confusion over the combo offer.
The crowd breaks into laughter.
Renuka, however, makes it clear that in this case, she is worth only the bar of Rin.
What’s the guarantee she and her husband can ensure development? “I am the CM’s wife. I can stop giving tea and food to him,” she says. “If he asks why he is not getting tea and food, I will tell him it’s because he is neglecting development work in Haridwar.”
The crowd, especially the women, giggle.
Renuka says Haridwar can get everything it wants once it elects her. “Aapke dono haath me laddoo hoga (you’ll have sweets in both hands). MP Renuka in one hand, CM Harish Rawat in the other. Whatever you want, will be done,” she said, winding up her speech.
The laddoo is indeed having a field day in these elections. At a speech in Bengal, Modi had sought support for the BJP saying if he was given a chance in Delhi, the state would have laddoos in both hands.
Renuka, whose main rival is former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank of the BJP, is staking claim to her husband’s legacy in Haridwar. Three months ago, Rawat had vacated the seat when the Congress made him chief minister, replacing Vijay Bahuguna, to pre-empt anti-incumbency sentiments ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Renuka is aware of a perceptible pro-Modi wave in the state, which accounts for just five Lok Sabha seats, and knows the only way to counter that is by presenting a better alternative.
Hence her “buy-one-get-one-free” model. It appears to have made an impact.
“Harish Rawat has done a lot of work in Haridwar since becoming chief minister. If his wife wins, Haridwar will see more development. If she loses, nothing will be done,” says Jagat Singh, who runs an eatery in Rishikesh.
Rawat’s detractors say he has focused entirely on Haridwar to ensure that his wife wins. “His helicopter has landed in almost every village of the constituency even if there are only 50 people in the crowd,” says Mohammad Sahjad, a former BSP MLA who claims that Rawat has conducted over 500 helicopter meetings in the past eight days.
If the Congress has a wife-and-husband model, so has the BJP — but with a difference. Satpal Maharaj, a sitting Congress MP, joined the BJP recently, but his wife, Amrita Rawat, a minister in the state government, stayed back.
Maharaj, who campaigned for Modi, says the country “needs a strong leader like him”. His wife campaigned for the Congress.
Narendra Modi at his rally in Roorkee hit out at the Harish Rawat government stating that at the centre there was a “mother-son government” and in the state “husband-wife” government. “We have to oust the two,” Modi said.
Harish Rawat justified it. “A good husband should make the wife part of every good thing he does. My wife is joining my effort to develop Uttarakhand while Modi abandoned his wife,” he told at a meeting in Rishikesh.
Not that political couples are the only flavour of the season here. A son is also in the fray in this hill state, still struggling to put behind the devastation from the flash floods that swamped Uttarakhand last year.
Bahuguna has ensured that his son Saket gets another shot from Tehri, the seat he vacated when he took over as chief minister. Saket had lost the seat in the 2012 by-election.
Uttarakhand votes on May 7