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It is difficult to guess what the Congress has in mind for Uttarakhand. Although the party was in total disarray before the assembly elections and, later, took some time to find its feet, the Governor’s address to the opening session of the Assembly did give some cause for hope. However, developments since then indicate that some of the usual deficiencies of Congress rule are likely to prevail, primarily that of looking to the party High Command for everything. Even this would not have been too bad if the state held a high enough priority, but it seems – and there has been considerable evidence of this over the years – Sonia’s court does not think much of Uttarakhand. The statements made by former Madhya Pradesh minister, Aziz Qureshi, who has been gifted the governorship of Uttarakhand, have further bolstered this belief. If Uttarakhand’s needs are considered not deserving of only the very best, what hope is there for focused development in the state? Is it a personal fiefdom to be granted in return for loyalty?
A theory has been floated that the gubernatorial appointment is part of an overall Congress strategy to woo the state’s minorities. Of course, ‘minority’ in much of India for all political purposes does not mean more than the Muslim community, otherwise incumbent Governor Margaret Alva comfortably fit the bill. Exactly what calculations have led the party to identify this state as requiring of community based machinations it cannot be said, but the move could boomerang pretty badly. It is not as though the Congress has a clear run over the next five years; it has some early tests to face that could have a bearing on its fortunes. These include the election of Chief Minister HN Bahuguna to the Vidhan Sabha, the bypoll that would result from his winning that election, and the not so distant General Elections. It would need only a couple of more ill-considered statements by the new ‘more loyal than the king’ Governor to polarise an electorate that is already undecided about its mandate.
Even worse, Uttarakhand could even represent a small pawn in a greater electoral strategy involving Madhya Pradesh, in particular, and the Hindi heartland, in general, where the ‘minority’ vote has significant importance. Could the party’s analysis of the recent UP election have thrown up the theory that the minority has to be wooed even more vigorously and unashamedly? Will the quid pro quo for loyalty to the ‘family’ be plum posts for otherwise undistinguished politicians, having little if any constitutional finesse? It is possible that this ‘promise’ could inspire those with clout in mohallas and qasbahs to dream of much, much bigger things? A very subtle political gambit, indeed; and not unexpected from the ivory towers of the prevailing appeasement theory!
What are the chances of this ploy working at both levels? After all, nothing succeeds like success. It all depends on the main opposition party in both cases, the BJP. More often than not, its response is so déclassé that it puts off the very people who would otherwise be considered most affected by such appeasement strategies. Nit-picking personal responses or knee-jerk reactions at the street level leave the electorate so shocked and alienated that even the best of opportunities are lost.
It can be safely said, however, that in Uttarakhand, at least, such politics is not going to gain much headway. It would be wise, therefore, for the BJP to observe a dignified silence. Let the Congress score a few own-goals in the coming days, if it is resolved to continue with this strange strategy.