A decade ago, in the similar times, your reporter had traversed through the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand to cover Assembly elections in the winter of 2007. We drove for more than 2000 kilometres through the hill roads, at times through sleet and rain, and extreme cold to understand poll nuances in a politically very sensitive state.
Till then, one had known Congress leader Narayan Dutt Tiwari from a reasonable distance. I was yet to enter journalism when he last held office in Lucknow as Chief Minister. In the 1990s, one did follow his fortunes, especially as a rebel Congress leader, who floated a party with another veteran Arjun Singh. One did trail him in Nainital-Bahedi constituency during frequent Lok Sabha polls which were held in the 1990s, which he lost in 1998 but had won in 1996 and 1999.
Tiwari during the brief interactions during those campaign trails never gave any impression that he favoured a separate hill state carved out of Uttar Pradesh, for which the BJP was leading an agitation. Rather, he was opposed to the idea of the hill state.
In the year 2000, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee granted statehood to the hill divisions of Kumaun and Garhwal, which came together to form Uttaranchal. As the luck would have, BJP lost power in the 2002 Assembly polls and Tiwari, then a Lok Sabha MP and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament, was summoned by the Congress leadership to head the government in the state.
Tiwari was anointed as Chief Minister as the party leadership did not trust the other senior leader much (Harish Rawat). Tiwari ran the government for full five years despite Rawat continuously fanning dissidence. His reign was seen as the best period of governance in the hill state with development becoming the buzzword. However, during the 2007 polls, the buzzword in the remote villages was different.
The counters of different shops in rural Uttarakhand sold a music CD titled 'Nauchami Narayan'(meaning naughty Narayan). Sung by popular Garhwali folk singer Narendra Singh Negi, the CD had songs about a ruler who was very fond of women and that he could go to any extent to bestow any favour on them.
For an outsider like your reporter, it took some time before the new found image of Tiwari could sink in. BJP during that poll campaign withheld all its publicity material and depended largely on soaring sales of Negi's songs. BJP won the polls comfortably as Narayan Dutt Tiwari's portrayal as Nauchami Narayan proved too difficult for the Congress to counter.
We are told that BJP president Amit Shah is a master poll strategist. He must be, after all, winning 73 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was no joke. However, the way the party went onto the lose Assembly polls in Bihar after a fair start in 2015 and the probability of mucking up its chances in Uttarakhand in 2017, could put his abilities to doubt.
Those who advised Shah to meet Narayan Dutt Tiwari to seek Brahmin votes certainly did not brief him about the Nauchami Narayan songs. One wonders, where was the need for the BJP to get another Brahmin leader in the state to bless its chances. It has quite a few Brahmins in its own ranks, the retired General and former Chief Minister BC Khanduri, and another former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank in Garhwal and present state party chief Ajay Bhatt and former minister Prakash Pant in Kumaun. Then there is former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, scion of the state's most famous political family, to add to the pantheon.
Then where was the need to have another Brahmin leader to bless the party? It's not just about the Nauchami Narayan songs. Shah should know that when BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh cadres were actively fighting for the cause of Uttrakhand, Tiwari in cohorts with his friend and then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was busy opposing the idea. How can these cadres be asked to accept Tiwari as a sympathiser?
As things in the past one year have evolved in the hill state, BJP's Central leadership has shown some kind of a pathological hatred for the Congress government in Dehradun. The way it has made repeated attempts to dethrone Harish Rawat as Chief Minister, it has only helped the cause of the Congress party.
The 69-year-old former Congress Seva Dal volunteer, who has emerged as the symbol of resurrection for the party was trusted, as mentioned earlier, the least by its leadership till the crisis broke out in the Himalayan state. Not known to enjoy close proximity to either Congress president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Rawat drew his own roadmap, piloted his resources, and remained steadfast despite immense pressure brought by the Centre including the threat of a CBI probe during the Centre's move to remove him by engineering a rebellion in the Congress ranks.
Rawat used the experience of his long political innings to keep his flock in order. He neutralised the influence of rivals Satpal Maharaj and Vijay Bahuguna within the Congress legislature party and used his personal emissaries to persuade BSP chief Mayawati to direct her MLAs to vote for the Congress government. He demonstrated his astute political acumen in having senior ministers Indira Hridayesh, a known protégé of Rawat's longtime nemesis Narayan Dutt Tiwari, standing beside him to give strength to their moves.
With the list of candidates announced, Rawat has entered the fray brimming with confidence of being the undisputed leader of the Congress. The BJP, on the other hand, is grappling with the problem of plenty finding ways and means to accommodate the more than a dozen Congress rebels, and in the process its loyalists finding their way to the Congress list.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressedare strictly personal.)