By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 25 Nov: A little over one year is left for the state assembly polls in Uttarakhand. The chief opposition party, the Congress, has levelled many allegations against the ruling BJP Government led by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and is hoping for some kind of anti–incumbency against the ruling party in the effort to return to power in the state in 2022. Uttarakhand is one of several states where Congress still has a lot of stakes and still remains one of two foremost political parties. Some other such states are Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP. In most other states, the Congress has been relegated to a distant fourth or even fifth political player.
Congress, led by then Chief Minister Harish Rawat, had lost power in the 2017 Uttarakhand assembly elections. So far, ever since the formation of Uttarakhand as a separate state in the year 2000, every ruling party has lost the elections. So, Congress and BJP have won every alternate assembly poll. However, this time, the Congress looks nowhere prepared to fight elections in an effective manner. The top party leaders are openly fighting each other and trading accusations. Harish Rawat was left in the state Congress as the tallest party leader after several stalwarts like Satpal Maharaj, Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat left the party and joined the BJP in the year 2016. Therefore, the onus to unite the party has by default fallen on its ex- chief minister, ex-union minister and ex- state party chief, Harish Rawat.
However, instead of appearing to be making any serious efforts to unite the party leaders and various factions within the party, Harish Rawat himself leads a faction and his party activities are more and more appearing to be parallel activities. He hardly ever uses the official party machinery to communicate with the party workers, the people or the media. There is hardly any doubt that he still exercises maximum influence with the Congress High Command when compared to all other senior party leaders in the Uttarakhand Congress. Currently also holding charge of some big states in his capacity as Party National General Secretary, he has not been able to bind the party together in his own state. All the Congress leaders who had rebelled against him in the year 2015 and those who left the Congress just before the 2017 assembly elections blame him for their leaving the party. These include ex-Union Minister Satpal Maharaj, ex-CM Vijay Bahuguna, and his cabinet colleagues in the government led by him, like Harak Singh Rawat and Yashpal Arya.
Interestingly, Harish Rawat was the state party chief in the year 2002 when the Congress had unexpectedly won the state assembly elections but his claim to the position of chief minister was ignored and his arch-rival in the party, ND Tiwari, was made the CM. However, after the year 2007, with the exception of Yashpal Arya, who was made the state party chief soon after the Congress lost the 2007 polls, it was Harish Rawat who managed to place his own men as state Congress chiefs. Arya was replaced by Kishore Upadhyay as the PCC Chief, who was considered to be a protégé of Harish Rawat. However, despite becoming CM barely months after the natural disaster that had struck Kedarnath Valley in 2013, when Vijay Bahuguna was replaced by him, his relations with Upadhyay could not remain cordial for long. Upadhyay was replaced by another of Harish Rawat’s protégés, Pritam Singh. All this while, Rawat and the present leader of the opposition, Indira Hridayesh, have remained arch rivals in the party. On having greater influence with the party high command, Rawat mostly has managed to have upper hand.
Still, his relationship with his own protégés within the party has continued to turn adverse. Currently, not only Indira Hridayesh but the PCC Chief, Pritam Singh are also at loggerheads with him. Once his most trusted lieutenant and confidante and a close relative, Ranjeet Rawat too has left him and joined hands with the rival group led by Indira Hridayesh. However, it is to his credit that he still manages to generate waves in the media with his activities and is still the most active top Congress leader in Uttarakhand despite not using the official party platforms to interact with the people, party cadre or media. Even the BJP leadership sees in him as the chief rival in the opposition ranks.
Therefore, the onus is on him to re-unite the party rank and file and fight the upcoming party elections as a single unit. Presently, the Congress seems to be in disarray and no objective or direction is evident in the party’s activities. Most senior party leaders remain active only on social media and their activities seem restricted either to the PCC office or their respective assembly constituencies. The coherence is missing. With the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also looking forward to fighting the upcoming state assembly elections in a more serious manner than it ever had in the past in Uttarakhand, the challenges for the Congress party are only mounting and it remains to be seen when the party cadre and leadership reactivate themselves in order to prepare well for the upcoming state elections. Sources inside the party admit that the party has never been so much in disarray in the past as it is presently in Uttarakhand.
By Arun Pratap Singh