In Uttarakhand, CM Rawat battles for Congress’ survival
The challenge for veteran Congress leader and Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat is humungous. Having played the role of disgruntled party leader under the shadows of party’s tallest leader from the state Narayan Dutt Tiwary, Rawat for the first time has the opportunity to provide leadership from the front as the five Lok Sabha seats in the state goes to poll on 7 May.
However, the opportunity has come to him under most difficult circumstances. He was pitchforked as chief minister of the state last winter replacing Vijay Bahuguna with the understanding that he would help the party retain all the five Lok Sabha seats in the state. However, sooner than he took office, his government was hit by inter factional squabbles which refuses to end in both the principal parties of the state – the Congress and the BJP.
Rawat had to retain, much against his desire, Vijay Bahuguna’s team. When he tried making a change in the portfolios, he had to face a rebellion with his longtime rival and senior party leader Satpal Maharaj, the sitting MP from Pauri deciding to quit party and join the BJP.
Chief minister Rawat knows well that with a wafer thin majority in the house, he has to win the seats to keep his government afloat or else the support of independent MLAs are waiting to be shifted to the BJP. Even if the BJP decides not to push for defection, knives would be out for him from within his party.
However, despite the adverses, Rawat has gained some ground in the past few months working overtime to retain if not five at least two of the seats in the state. He has pitched hopes on Almora seat, which is reserved for the scheduled caste and Hardwar seat, from where he is sitting MP and this time his wife Renuka Rawat is contesting.
Almora MP Pradeep Tamta is known to be close to Rawat and also the local MLAs from Almora are also known to be part of the chief minister’s faction. They together have been pooling their resources to ensure victory of the sitting MP. On the other hand, public rallies by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and veteran LK Advani in the constituency have been very successful sending alarm bells ringing.
Modi also addressed a huge rally in Roorkee, which is part of Hardwar constituency, from where former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank is trying to wrest the seat from the Congress. In addition to personal pitch made by chief minister Harish Rawat, Congress leadership has also been giving a push to his campaign at on Almora and Hardwar seats. While Rahul Gandhi has addressed a rally in Almora, Sonia Gandhi too addressed a rally in Roorkee, a day after Modi’s public meeting.
On the remaining three seats Harish Rawat finds himself in Catch 22 situation. The candidates on these three seats – Saket Bahuguna in Tehri, Harak Singh Rawat in Pauri and KC Singh Baba in Nainital are identified with the factions which have been opposed to Harish Rawat. While Saket is son of former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat is himself a claimant for the chief minister’s chair and Baba is a close associate of Tiwary.
On the other hand, BJP has so far put its best foot forward on all the seats. It has three former chief ministers as party’s flag bearers – BC Khanduri in Pauri, Nishank in Hardwar and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in Nainital. Tehri seat is once again being contested by the Maharani of the erstwhile state. He had wrested the seat from the Congress during the bypolls. In Almora they have former minister Ajay Tamta contesting.