1) BJP’s gambit of going to the polls banking on PM Modi worked hugely for the party. The PM addressed 4 rallies in the state in which he spoke about issues which resonate with people in the hills like stopping migration from hill villages, enhancing employment opportunities and bolstering tourism especially to the char dhams (one of the mainstays of the state’s tourism-oriented economy). He also wooed the defence fraternity — comprising about 30% of the state’s almost 75 lakh voters — reminding them of fulfilled promises like OROP and implementation of the seventh pay commission.
2) Over-dominance of Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand Congress, exodus of senior leaders. Rawat had the dubious distinction of being the only CM in the state’s 16-year-old history (which has had a legacy of CMs being replaced mid-stream) to have faced maximum dissent during his two and a half years tenure. Besides the 9 Cong leaders who left the party in March last year setting off a chain reaction that resulted in imposition of central rule, other senior leaders like Yashpal Arya (regarded as a stalwart in the Kumaon region) also quit in a huff protesting against the CM just before the tickets were to be announced. The vacuum created by these leaders became difficult for the Congress to fill.
3) Bringing in Prashant Kishor backfired for Congress. Handing the reins of the campaign to poll strategist Prashant Kishor alienated many party leaders some of whom openly resented being sidelined. Enthusiasm among cadre was low since Kishor’s team was handling most of the poll-related activities.
4) Anti-incumbency and corruption charges stuck against CM Rawat. BJP played up the issue of corruption in the Harish Rawat government highlighting mining and liquor licence allotment scams in which the CM’s close advisers were alleged to be involved . This was followed by a series of Parivartan rallies and Jan Chetana rallies across the state which harped on the issue.
5) Rawat’s sting CD. The CD sting which showed Harish Rawat allegedly negotiating a deal to buy back his dissident MLAs dented his image and may have contributed to people voting overwhelmingly against him and leading to his loss from both the seats that he fought.
6) BJP chose its candidates based on an extensive survey, released its list early, Congress deliberated on names far too long. BJP released its list of candidates almost a week before the Congress giving tickets to all the former Congress rebels based on their survey which showed them as winning candidates.(even though this alienated party old-timers). But the strategy seems to have worked. Congress took a long time deciding its candidates which left only a few days for candidates to campaign, a big disadvantage while traversing hard-to-reach hill areas.
7) BJP put its star campaigners to good use, Congress focused on releasing memes and videos projecting Rawat as ‘Bahubali’. The Congress campaign was essentially focused on Harish Rawat and the CM was the party’s solitary crowd puller (along with Rahul Gandhi who addressed a few rallies and conducted a road show in Haridwar). The party’s poll promos essentially focused on showing Rawat as ‘Bahubali’ trouncing BJP candidates. In contrast, BJP brought in a lot of star power to appeal to a cross-section of voters. Among senior party leaders who campaigned extensively in the state were Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Hema Malini and Arun Jaitley.