Uttarakhand is witnessing a political churning like never before. The state which was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 to accord its people an opportunity to prosper and progress in a climate of political stability and certainty has, due to the actions of the central leaders of its two main political parties (the Congress and the BJP), only seen itself being pushed into a political abyss. And the latest episode of its only chief minister to have served a full term, N.D. Tiwari, shifting loyalties and moving from the Congress to the BJP, along with his son, Rohit Shekhar, only serves to bolster the point.
The relatively young state, which would be voting on February 15 to elect only its fourth assembly, is now witnessing a scenario in which two of its former chief ministers, Vijay Bahuguna and Tiwari, and a host of other ministers and party leaders have jumped across party lines. The situation has reached such a passe that the BJP in the state now dons a very old-Congress look.
By inducting Tiwari – who was also a three-time chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and former governor of Andhra Pradesh (from where he was unceremoniously ousted in the wake of a sex scandal) – into the BJP, the right-wing party may have managed to say that its popularity is on the rise, but has done little to assure people of the state about some semblance of order and stability in the future.
As it is, the BJP has been held responsible by many for destabilising the polity of the state. After the state was formed in November 2000, BJP had made Nityanand Swami its first chief minister. He was removed even before he could complete a year in office and Bhagat Singh Koshyari was sworn. This had its impact and the Congress came to power in March 2002, following the first assembly elections in the state. Tiwari was made the chief minister and he completed his term.
Thereafter, when the BJP came to power in 2007, it installed B.C. Khanduri as the chief minister but replaced him with Ramesh Pokhriyal even before he had completed half of his term. Pokhriyal’s tenure was marked by corruption and nepotism, and the BJP tried to stall the fall in its popularity by re-installing Khanduri six months before the 2012 polls. But it was too late and the party lost power again. This time the Congress returned to power with the support of other parties and Vijay Bahuguna was made chief minister.
Following the disastrous floods and Bahuguna’s inept handling of the situation, the Congress also followed BJP’s line and decided to replace him with Harish Rawat, who would have been the party chief minister way back in 2002 had he not conceded defeat even before the results were announced. This only resulted in Bahuguna rebelling against the Congress and resulted in the imposition of president’s rule and the state plunging into another political crisis.
However, in the mad pursuit of power, the BJP has once again chosen to play on with its one leader over the other policy. Its first list of 64 candidates for polls to the 70-member assembly has several former leaders of the Congress or their kin. Prominent among these are Bahuguna’s son Saurabh from Sitarganj and Congress minister Yashpal Arya and his son Sanjeev from Bajpur and Nainital respectively.
The BJP has also given tickets to other former Congress leaders such as ex-MP Satpal Maharaj from Chaubattakhal, former minister Harak Singh Rawat from Kotdwar and Kedar Singh Rawat from Yamunotri.
Having failed to usurp power in the state by suspending the elected government and imposing president’s rule, the BJP has this time adopted the strategy of taking in anyone and everyone of any value to win the election. But this is having a negative impact on the morale of the party’s own cadre and several former and sitting party MLAs such as Om Gopal Rawat from Narendra Nagar (where the BJP has fielded former Congressman Subodh Uniyal), former MLA Shailendra Singh Rawat from Kotdwar and former MLA Tirath Singh Rawat from Chaubattakhal have all openly expressed their disappointment at the manner of ticket distribution.
However, in the lust for power, old friends are being conveniently forgotten and new alliances are being forged. The assumption is that all hostility will be buried if the results are favourable. The BJP’s media in-charge Davendra Bhasin was quoted as saying, “The leaders denied tickets are part of the BJP family and would remain in the party-fold. Those planning to take extreme measures would be pacified by the party leaders in due course of time during the campaign.”
But history has shown that in Uttarakhand that has never been the case. Leaders have rebelled if denied positions of power. Parties would do well to bear this in mind, for the future of the state is likely to be as tumultuous as its recent past.