The masks and gloves are off in the Uttarakhand Congress. Too many in the party are at the fag end of their careers. The narrow ‘victory’ in the recent assembly elections, with the unexpected defeat of several stalwarts on all sides, has further stoked the panic. As a result, there is a no holds barred struggle for power underway, with extreme positions having been taken by the dissidents. Although it seems as though an impasse has been reached, the deadline for the final show of hands is already upon them. It will be very difficult to return to the good books of the High Command if there is embarrassment for the Congress at the time of filing the nomination of the party’s Rajya Sabha candidate on 19 March.
If the rebels return to the fold even now, there exists the possibility of some short term gains till the situation stabilises at other levels, but it is a certainty that Harish Rawat’s long term prospects in the party are bleak. No one would be more aware of that than Rawat, himself. As stated earlier in these columns, he probably feels more secure at the helm of state politics than at the Centre, where the government is perpetually in the grip of some crisis or the other. As such, it would be reasonable to assume that he is unlikely to soften his stance for anything less than the top job. Any other deal would be provisional and his head is bound to roll at the first opportunity. Sonia Gandhi has faced more serious revolts in important states like Andhra Pradesh and has refused to back down. Can Rawat do better?
All this has made the situation extremely interesting. The challenge for the party, as everybody knows, will only increase, with the election of the Speaker, the RS election, as well as the vote of confidence coming up. The State Party President, Yashpal Arya, is testing the waters with his instruction on MLAs being present for the RS nomination. The occasion will show how many remain resolved to challenge the High Command.
The party’s allies in the form of the BSP, UKD(P) and independent legislators will be watching intently. They would also be aware that in the absence of BC Khanduri from the House, there is no guarantee that the BJP would be in any better position than the Congress to present a united front and form a government. Perhaps, these legislators should already begin to function as a pressure group and get the Congress to perform, or else! A good first initiative has been the declaration by the UKD (P) that it would only support an RS nominee belonging to Uttarakhand. The rest of the group should also accept this principle.
Apart from the fact that the situation has brought Uttarakhand in undeserved disrepute, it should be a revelation to the voters on what the actual interests are of the political class. In spite of all the fancy speeches during the election campaign, it is clear that – in this case – the Congressmen do not have the common objective of the people’s well-being at heart and the entire exercise is undertaken to acquire personal power and position. If the purpose was to implement the party’s policy and ideology, it would not matter much who became the Chief Minister, he would only be the first among equals. Unfortunately, however, the reality is something quite different – the stakes for whoever gets the job are extraordinarily high. It is more like winning the lottery.
Harish Rawat, Harak Singh and the rest of them had made much of the BJP’s penchant for changing Chief Ministers mid-stream, but they seem to think nothing of changing their own even before the government has won the vote of confidence. Ought the Governor to countenance a change in candidate, if it is done? Should not the BJP be taking advantage of the situation by, at least, projecting its own chief ministerial candidate, just in case?