Heavy snowfall and the freezing cold coupled with the Covid pandemic have made electioneering an uphill task in the hill state of Uttarakhand, going to polls on February 14. The scaled-down campaign by political parties amid the Election Commission restrictions on political rallies till January 31 due to Covid has been further hit by a spell of heavy snowfall and rain that started last week. The limit of ten people on door-to-door campaigns and meetings in big halls limited to half their capacities, the weather conditions have been creating additional troubles for candidates. Heavy snowfall has partially cut off many villages in the hills making it almost impossible for candidates to reach them.
While talking to 'PTI-Bhasha', sitting MLA and BJP candidate from Badrinath, Mahendra Bhat said due to the continuing rains and snow for the last several days, he has been contacting people from the village to village using an umbrella and wearing gumboots. He said commuting is taking more time due to bad weather. Giving the example of Durmi village in Joshimath block, he said it normally takes an hour to reach there but due to bad weather it took him more than two hours to reach it.
Like Badrinath, there are about two dozen assembly seats out of a total of 70 in Uttarakhand that remain snowbound in winter. These seats include Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Mussoorie, Dharchula, Chakrata, Purola, Nainital and Dhanaulti.
Over 35 to 40 per cent area of the Kedarnath assembly constituency is affected by snowfall and this time there has been a record snowfall. Congress candidate from Kedarnath and sitting MLA Manoj Rawat admitted that this time the weather is worse than usual and there has been continuous snowfall, causing a lot of trouble. It is taking them twice as long as normal to reach the snow-covered Machkandi, Akodi and Badach gram sabhas. Rawat himself is a resident of Badach village.
Rawat said due to the non-availability of big halls in hilly areas and seating capacity in any house being not more than that for 10 people, reaching out to voters throughout the constituency requires at least one month. Roads were also closed due to heavy snowfall over the last few days, forcing candidates to travel an additional 100 to 200 km to reach voters.
Congress candidate from Dhanaulti seat Jot Singh Bisht said 70 out of 362 villages in his constituency have been cut off due to snowfall and they have to walk several kilometers extra to reach there. He said at present he is able to reach only 150 families in densely populated areas and 100 in areas with scattered populations daily in door-to-door campaigning. He said if the same weather conditions continue, it would take them about three months to reach 21,000 families.
Bishan Singh Chufal, a Cabinet minister in the Pushkar Singh Dhami government and BJP candidate from Didihat, said he went door-to-door in Manpapo and Manda gram sabhas on Wednesday amid snowfall and sought votes for himself. Chufal, however, said though snowfall is a hindrance, he cannot let any hurdle come in the way of reaching the voters.
Uttarakhand Chief Electoral Officer Saujanya said the election process will not be affected due to bad weather as the polling parties arrive at the polling stations one day in advance to keep all arrangements in place on time. She said basic arrangements like electricity and water supply have already been streamlined.