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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 12, Dated 24 Mar 2012

    A temporary reprieve for the Congress

    CM contender Harish Rawat has been pacified but things could still go wrong for the party, says Brijesh Pandey

    Harish Rawat

    Rebel yell Harish Rawat

    IT WASN’T easy to reach the magic figure of 36 seats in the 70-member Uttarakhand Assembly, but for the Congress, the victory turned sour too soon, threatening the brand-new government of Vijay Bahuguna. The party was faced with a strong rebellion when senior leader Harish Rawat made it clear that he would not give up his claim on chief ministership.

    It all started when the party high command sprang a surprise by appointing Bahuguna, the MP from Tehri and a relative political lightweight, as the chief minister of the hill state. Rawat, a veteran politician widely believed to be the architect of the party’s victory, both in 2002 and 2012, was ignored for the top post once again.

    The rebellion broke out soon after the central leadership named Bahuguna as the new chief minister. As enraged supporters of Rawat came out on the streets of Dehradun to protest against Bahuguna’s anointment, nearly 18 MLAs congregated in New Delhi in support of Rawat.

    Rawat’s resignation as Minister of State, Parliamentary Affairs, and his alleged conversation with BJP president Nitin Gadkari sent ripples in the Congress camp. There was speculation over a potential break-up from the party and forming an alternative government with BJP support. Even though Rawat denied these rumours, his supporters did not try to clear any misconception.

    What has upset his supporters most is the fact that Rawat has been overlooked twice, the first time in 2002 when he lost out to veteran leader ND Tiwari.

    “In 2002, Rawat was the Pradesh Congress Committee president and one of the frontrunners for the chief minister’s post, but the party made Tiwari the CM,” recalls a Rawat loyalist. “We all accepted this as Tiwari was a towering political personality. But in 2012, the situation is completely different. Initially, we were promised that because of the impending Lok Sabha elections, the CM would be chosen from among the MLAs. If the party had stuck to that promise, there would have been no complaints. But to select an MP, overlooking Rawatji’s case is simply unacceptable. We might not break away from the party but the bitterness will linger for a long time.”

    The Congress won 32 seats in the Assembly and formed the government after winning the support of three BSP MLAs, three independents and one UKD MLA.

    The rebellion was evident when Bahuguna was sworn in as the seventh chief minister of the state on 12 March. Barely 10 of the Congress’s 32 MLAs were present at the ceremony. Bahuguna put up a brave face and rubbished media reports that Rawat will soon join the BJP.

    Rawat quelled reports of his breaking away from the Congress. “I’m not rebelling against the party. I just wanted to prove to them that the report of the general secretary (Chaudhary Birender Singh) that only six MLAs are supporting me is wrong. If that was the case then why were only 8-10 MLAs present at the swearing-in ceremony. Where were the rest of the MLAs?”

    Pradeep Tamta, MP from Almora and a known Rawat loyalist, is still seething with anger. “After the Uttar Pradesh elections, everybody was of the view that the reason why we lost so badly was because there were no strong local leaders. In Uttarakhand, we have a strong local leadership but we ignore him. Who do you think stands to lose? The Congress and Rahul Gandhi should take note of this.”

    As a compromise, Rawat may be elevated to the rank of a Union Cabinet minister in the next reshuffle

    While the Congress is maintaining that everything is hunky dory within the party and the problems have been ironed out, there are some leaders who believe that after the poor show in other states in the recent Assembly elections and the problems the party is facing from the allies, this issue could have been easily avoided.

    According to a Congress leader, “The situation should have been dealt with more maturity. The assessment of Rawat’s strength was way off the mark and with the kind of drubbing we have received in the other states, this bad blood should have been avoided at all costs. Before ruling out Rawat, the central leadership should have accommodated his concerns.”

    New Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has his task cut out

    Hollow victory New Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has his task cut out

    While a sense of inevitability of remaining in the party is dawning on the Rawat camp, insiders say that if he is not able to show something for his martyrdom, he will come across as a weak leader in the eyes of his supporters. The open defiance with which the MLAs and MPs have spoken against the central leadership is something that the party will never take kindly to and it will be just a matter of time before the party hits back, say observers.

    After all the sound and fury, Rawat has now begun to show signs of thaw. “You don’t get everything in one lifetime,” he told TEHELKA, adding that he won’t be a source of dissent for the party either in Dehradun or New Delhi. Sources close to Rawat say that as part of a compromise formula, he may be elevated to the rank of a Union Cabinet minister in the next reshuffle and his loyalists would be given key berths in the state government.

    However, many party insiders are treating this tentative truce as just Round 1 of a prolonged battle. Once the party settles the issue, it will be facing the next big hurdle of getting Bahuguna elected for the Assembly as then every faction will try to assert its own supremacy and the Congress might end up as the biggest loser.

    Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
    [email protected]

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 12, Dated 24 Mar 2012



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