The Vidhan Sabha elections in the state of Uttarakhand got underway on Monday, 14 February, in which the people will elect 70 members to the Legislative Assembly.
Vote counting and the declaration of results will take place on 10 March.
More than 600 candidates will contest for the 70 seats in the Vidhan Sabha in the 2022 elections.
The polls in Uttarakhand will largely be a bipolar battle between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress.
The incumbent, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, will be looking to hold on to his office, while former Uttarakhand CM and veteran leader Harish Rawat is expected to lead the Congress party.
In the state's previous elections, that were held in 2017, the BJP, led by Trivendra Singh Rawat, had claimed an overwhelming victory, winning 57 of the 70 seats.
The Congress party had finished second with 11 seats, and the remaining two seats had gone to independent candidates.
The Bahujan Samaj Party had also participated in the polls, but had failed to get off the mark.
Uttarakhand's BJP unit has gone through quite some turmoil in the past year.
Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned in March 2021 and was replaced by Tirath Singh Rawat, who himself stepped down in a matter of fourth months.
Pushkar Singh Dhami succeeded Tirath Singh Rawat, and has managed to hold onto his post.
He now has to defend it.
Key Constituencies and Candidates
Haridwar: It is an important constituency due to the considerable presence of Muslim and Dalit voters in Haridwar district.
The BJP, Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the BSP are all contesting.
Madan Kaushik, who is a four-time MLA from Haridwar and the BJP's president in the state, will once again contest for the same seat.
Congress has nominated Satpal Brahmachari to try and unseat him.
The Haridwar 'Dharam Sansad', where calls were issued for a genocide against Muslims, will also play a key role in shaping the result.
Khatima: Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami will be contesting from this seat. The Congress party has fielded Bhuwan Kapri to try and defeat him.
Lalkuan: Harish Rawat will contest the Assembly elections from Lalkuan. He will face a challenge from Mohan Singh Bisht of the BJP.
Srinagar: Ganesh Godiyal, who is the president of the Uttarakhand Congress, will be contesting against the senior BJP leader and minister Dhan Singh Rawat for the Srinagar seat.
Haridwar (rural): Anupama Rawat of the Congress Party, the daughter of former CM Harish Rawat, will contest against BJP heavyweight and Minister Yatishwarananda.
Rawat had lost to Yatishwarananda in Haridwar (rural) during the 2017 state elections.
Kotdwar: For this seat, the BJP has nominated former chief minister BC Khanduri's daughter Ritu Khanduri.
Trying to defeat her would be senior politician and former minister Surendra Singh Negi of the Congress Party.
Haridwar is known to be the stronghold of the BJP, and the data supports this claim.
The BJP candidate from Haridwar, Madan Kaushik, was first elected as the Haridwar MLA in the year 2002 and subsequently in 2007, 2012 and 2017.
Not having lost for four terms in a row, the BJP wouldn't be too tensed about this seat.
On the other hand, Jaspur is a stronghold for the Congress party, which won this seat in the 2007, 2012 and 2017 elections.
Shailendra Mohan Singhal won this seat in 2002 as an independent, after which he joined the Congress party and won Jaspur again in 2007 and 2012.
Then he joined the BJP before the 2017 elections and contested Jaspur again, but lost to Adesh Singh Chauhan of the Congress.
Factors Affecting Parties
Data shows that Uttarakhand's economy under the BJP has nose-dived.
Uttarakhand's per capita income has dropped below the 2016-17 levels, The Wire reported on 11 February.
The report also adds that in the last five years, unemployment in the state has risen from 1.61 percent in 2016-17 to 10.99 percent in 2020-2021.
The total number of working people has reduced by 4.4 lakh in the same time span.
The opposition party, the Congress, has focused mostly on economic issues like inflation, unemployment and lack of basic facilities in the state
The Congress manifesto says that it will cap the prices of LPG cylinders at Rs 500 if it comes to power.
To tackle unemployment, it has also promised to fill 57,000 vacancies in multiple government departments within a year of the elections, provided it wins.
The BJP on the other hand, seems to be focusing on issues like 'love jihad' and Uniform Civil Code.
The manifesto released earlier this week promised a strict law against 'love jihad.'
Promising to make amendments to the current law, the BJP says that it will add a "provision of 10-year imprisonment for the accused."
Two days before the polls, Chief Minister Dhami announced on Saturday, 12 February, that as soon as the BJP retains power in the state, a committee will be created to prepare a draft of the Uniform Civil Code.
The BJP, for quite a while, has been championing a nationwide UCC, that would provide the same laws for everyone irrespective of their religion, regarding issues like marriage, divorce, property and inheritance among others.
"This Uniform Civil Code will be a step towards realising the dreams of those who framed our Constitution and solidify the spirit of the Constitution. This will also be an impactful step towards Article 44 that provides for UCC for all citizens," the CM said, as quoted by ANI.
Finally, the Haridwar 'Dharam Sansad' which saw unhindered hate speech against Muslims, is bound to be a poll factor.
A Haridwar court earlier this week granted bail to priest Yati Narsinghanand, who was arrested on multiple charges including hate speech.
There is a significant size of Muslim and Dalit voters in Haridwar district's constituencies.
Jaspur, Bajpur, Kichha, Sitarganj and Kashipur of Udham Singh Nagar are the seats where the anti-farm laws protests made an impact, according to The Hindu.
Will the withdrawal of those laws play a decisive factor?
(With inputs from The Hindu and The Wire)