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Factionalism at peak in U’khand Cong

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By ARUN PRATAP SINGH

DEHRADUN, 6 Jan: Ever since the formation of the state, the Congress in Uttarakhand has seen long duels and disputes between top party leaders. However, it is perhaps for the first time that the fight is not only out in the open but has acquired the form of one-upmanship between the top leaders. Even as the Congress in Uttarakhand has been losing one after the other election in the state, particularly after the 2014 General Elections, the factionalism is only growing and there is no sign of the tussle abating even a bit. Sources in Congress claim that it is a power tussle between the top leaders, who are showing signs of arrogance and ego clashes. The major tussle seems to be between veteran Congress leader Harish Rawat and the Leader of the Opposition, Indira Hridayesh, two of the top party leaders in Uttarakhand. They never had a warm relationship with each other, but the things have taken a turn for worse in recent weeks. It may be recalled that Indira Hridayesh was considered to be very close to the late ND Tiwari, former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, while Harish Rawat, the then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) Chief, was on the other side. In fact, Congress insiders claimed that Harish Rawat was so used to running the party as a personal organisation that even though he got his own protégés appointed as PCC chiefs after him, he could not get along with them, either. Kishore Upadhyay was known to be a close confidante of Harish Rawat when he was nominated PCC Chief courtesy Harish Rawat, during Vijay Bahuguna’s tenure as Chief Minister. However, soon after Harish Rawat replaced Bahuguna as CM, the two could not get along well for long. Sources add that when Rahul Gandhi became the Vice President of the party and its most powerful leader, Rawat continued to be in his good books even after the Congress badly lost the 2017 assembly elections. He had contested from two seats, Haridwar Rural and Kichha, but was defeated in both.They never had a warm relationship with each other, but the things have taken a turn for worse in recent weeks. It may be recalled that Indira Hridayesh was considered to be very close to the late ND Tiwari, former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, while Harish Rawat, the then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) Chief, was on the other side. In fact, Congress insiders claimed that Harish Rawat was so used to running the party as a personal organisation that even though he got his own protégés appointed as PCC chiefs after him, he could not get along with them, either. Kishore Upadhyay was known to be a close confidante of Harish Rawat when he was nominated PCC Chief courtesy Harish Rawat, during Vijay Bahuguna’s tenure as Chief Minister. However, soon after Harish Rawat replaced Bahuguna as CM, the two could not get along well for long. Sources add that when Rahul Gandhi became the Vice President of the party and its most powerful leader, Rawat continued to be in his good books even after the Congress badly lost the 2017 assembly elections. He had contested from two seats, Haridwar Rural and Kichha, but was defeated in both. He, however continued to command Rahul Gandhi’s confidence and was soon appointed National General Secretary of the party. Sources assert that soon after this, Rawat managed to get Kishore Upadhyay ousted as PCC Chief and replaced by another close confidante, Pritam Singh. It may be recalled that Indira Hridayesh was chosen by Sonia Gandhi as the Leader of the Opposition much against the wishes of Rawat after the biggest ever rout of the party, which could not even win twenty seats. It may further be recalled that, since the 2014 general elections, Congress has been losing one leader after another to the BJP, beginning with Satpal Maharaj. In 2016, nine party MLAs including Cabinet Minister Harak Singh ditched the party and joined hands with the BJP. Consequently, the Rawat Government was dismissed by the Centre for having lost its majority, though it was restored on the orders of the Supreme Court. But, even then, Rawat failed to gain public sympathy and suffered the worst ever defeat. Even with his own man, Pritam Singh, as PCC Chief, Harish Rawat has continued to organise parallel programmes and protests against the state government or the Modi Government at the Centre, without coordinating with the PCC. His own team tried to run the party but was not allowed to by Pritam Singh. Soon after, Singh and Rawat, too, fell apart. In fact, sources claim that Singh has joined hands with Indira Hridayesh and now these two leaders are controlling the party. In fact, whenever Singh has tried to constitute a fresh PCC, there has been tremendous pressure on him to include the names recommended by Harish Rawat as well as Kishore Upadhyay. Not being able to include his own men in the PCC, Singh announced that the size of the new PCC would be very small and functional. This was not taken well by Rawat and, consequently, the constitution of the fresh PCC has continued to be delayed on one pretext or the other for nearly three years. With Sonia Gandhi back as Congress President in place of Rahul Gandhi, Singh has been given the go ahead to constitute a fresh PCC and, therefore, the outgoing PCC was dissolved on 17 December. According to party insiders, Rawat is perhaps aware that his own men are not likely to be accommodated in big enough number and has, therefore, started claiming that he would retire from active politics. The announcement, as perhaps expected by him, induced some of his close confidantes to start issuing open threats. Harish Dhami and Karan Mahra, the Deputy leader of the Congress Legislative Party, went to the extent of issuing a public statement against the Pritam Singh- Indira Hridayesh combine and claimed that they were willing to contest as independents in the 2022 assembly elections. Sources add that the tussle is for the ability to distribute tickets to supporters in the forthcoming elections so that the claim could be made for the Chief Ministership in case the Congress wins. Interestingly, Rawat was controlling the party to such an extent in 2017 that he had given tickets to his own men, recalled the sources. As a result, though the party lost the elections, out of the 11 Congress MLAs, eight are still Rawat’s supporters. Sources also reveal that these MLAs have formed an informal front and are now lobbying to get Indira Hridayesh replaced as Leader of the Opposition. The sources express apprehension that the present power tussle does not bode well for the party and the party stands a chance of losing the elections if it is not able to put up a united fight in the 2022 assembly elections.