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Free Electricity Promise is Powering Up Politics in Uttarakhand as Parties Eye Poll-Bound Hill State

File photo of Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami and Arvind Kejriwal.

File photo of Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami and Arvind Kejriwal.

This time, AAP is a relatively new entrant in Uttarakhand has forced both BJP and Congress to explore freebie angle.

Although Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the opposition parties including Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are poles apart in the political sphere, but in Uttarakhand the parties are apparently sharing the same opinion at least one issue. The trio – BJP, Congress and AAP are promising free electricity to the consumers of the hilly state that goes to assembly polls early next year.

Facing criticism from the opposition for recently changing Chief Minister one after the other, the power minister last week threw ‘freebie bait’ – in an attempt to send a ‘positive vibe’ among voters. Though it is unclear whether 100 units free electricity promise will be implemented anytime soon as new chief minister Pushkar Dhami said the government was yet to bring a proposal before the cabinet.

Nevertheless, the freebie has given enough fodder to political parties jostling for its share in the forthcoming assembly elections.

In the last two decades, the state has witnessed political duels between the BJP and the Congress. Both parties have had took turns every five years to remain in power. However, this time, AAP a relatively new entrant has forced both major parties to explore freebie angle.

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In the 70-member state assembly, BJP has 56 members – maximum members so far in the state. Congress believes it could gain from anti-incumbency sentiments against BJP – a hope that is fuelling power in the engine of the AAP as well. Besides what is kicking AAP is internal feedback that reportedly suggested a certain degree of the level playing field in the hill state.

Interestingly, it was during the last year when Congress’ Harish Rawat first promised 100 units free power if voted to power. He then perhaps sensed how AAP could eat anti-government votes riding on the guaranteed promise narrative.

Congress and BJP minced no words after AAP president and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday promised ‘guaranteed’ flat 300 units electricity to domestic consumers and unlimited free electricity to farmers of the state.

“There is no political space left for habitual liar Arvind Kejriwal in Uttarakhand. If AAP providing free power in Delhi then why consumers receiving inflated power bills with several taxes added into it” Anil Baluni, BJP national media in-charge who is also Rajya Sabha member from Uttarakhand said.

Former Congress chief minister Harish Rawat was equally quick to react. Rawat said no parallels could be drawn between Uttarakhand and Delhi. “We can provide 400 units free if Uttarakhand enjoys similar (financial) resources as Delhi,” Rawat tweeted.

A quick look at the financial health of Uttarakhand Power Corporation Ltd (UPCL) – power distributing arm of the state – shows it is running into huge losses. UPCL is bleeding in a bid to maintain equilibrium between supply and demand which is to the tune of anywhere between 34 to 40 million units per day. At times UPCL is forced to purchase electricity from the open market.

Jay Singh Rawat a political commentator adds the freebie politics is a dangerous trend for the state which is already sandwiched between shrunk revenue sources and loans borrowed from various agencies.

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first published:July 12, 2021, 09:10 IST