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Big Challenge

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PL Punia is the latest party official entrusted by the High Command to mediate a truce between warring factions in the Uttarakhand Congress. The party was in the midst of ‘Ek Saal, Bemisaal’ celebrations of State Party President Karan Mahra’s year in office when the discontent of rival leaders came, once again, to the fore. Be it Tilak Raj Behad expressing his angst or former Party President Pritam Singh taking potshots at the functioning of the party, Mahra has had his hands full. The likes of former CM Harish Rawat and former Minister Harak Singh Rawat continue to pursue their own line, denying space for the party or colleagues in their reading of the political situation.

It is no wonder that BJP State Party President Mahendra has been mocking the Congress leaders for their shenanigans, hoping to score points for the coming municipal elections. And it is exactly this coming challenge that Puniya will have been focusing on in his interaction with party leaders during his visit here. Each factional leader is under pressure from supporters to obtain the party’s candidature in the coming polls. Traditionally, the negotiations for this start with every such leader displaying his or her nuisance value.

Municipal elections also witness the most number of disgruntled rebel candidates from the political parties trying to display their clout, as also independents. The margins of victory are usually small, so making the right choice of candidate is crucial and requires the leadership to have a level-headed approach. In Uttarakhand, it is not just a generational conflict; it also has a lot to do with caste, region and community, which remain unreconciled at the grassroots. While it affects the ruling party, also, the desperation in the Congress is higher because failure to make the desired impact could spell finis to the careers of many leaders, particularly of the vintage variety.

It is also a fact that the Congress High Command does not have much of a clue as to what the state unit requires. It ‘punished’ the incumbent office-bearers after the defeat in the assembly elections but could not install a credible leadership in its stead. Mahra has had to fight a solitary battle from the start and, while he might present a brave face on the situation, the dissidence has only increased. The only element that the party can take solace from is the fact that it still has a considerable number of followers. Bringing them together to present a cohesive front remains the big challenge.