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Election seasons in India largely follow the same format: first political parties come out with the candidates lists, then there is high-voltage poll campaigning including big promises, mudslinging rivals, massive rallies and a dizzying display of money and muscle power to woo voters and form government.
However, in Uttarakhand, the Congress appears to have forgotten this template. Instead, there is intense infighting, backstabbing and betrayal within factions to establish supremacy.
How deeply divided the party is in Uttarakhand can be understood from the fact that it has released two list of candidates, while attempting to keep all factions happy. On Wednesday, the Congress announced the second list in which Harish Rawat was given the ticket from Lalquan and his sworn enemy, Ranjit Rawat, was given the ticket from Salt. Harish Rawat’s daughter Anupama Rawat got the ticket from Haridwar (Rural) while Keshar Singh Negi got the ticket from Chaubattakhal.
The first big signs of inner bickering were visible when a sulking Harish Rawat, in a series of tweets on December 22, said that his “hands are tied” and “he has been ignored”. His pressure tactic worked; after a hurriedly called meeting, the Congress high command declared him to be the head of the Uttarakhand election campaign.
Everything looked fine until Harak Singh Rawat started knocking the Congress’s doors, to join the party along with his daughter-in-law Anukriti Gusain in Delhi. Behind-the-scenes work was being done by Ganesh Godhiyal and Pritam Singh. Congress insiders claimed that Harish Rawat almost made it almost impossible for Harak and his daughter-in-law to join the party.
Even now, the factionalism continues unabated. Battle lines have been drawn between Harish Rawat and his arch rivals – Pritam Singh, Ranjit Rawat, Ganesh Godhiyal and Harak Singh Rawat.
While Harish and Ranjit Rawat were once known for their friendship, they are now equally known for their enmity. Ranjit served as Harish’s right-hand man for years, before the two had a falling out in 2017.
Ranjit contested from the Ram Nagar constituency in 2017 and was defeated by the BJP’s Diwan Singh Bisht. For the last five years, Ranjit has been working in Ram Nagar. But to settle old scores with Ranjit, Harish is now adamant that he will contest from the Ram Nagar seat. A series of protests by Congress workers in Ram Nagar have exposed the rift between the two senior leaders. A Congress insider told The Wire that a compromise is being worked out to settle the issue.
The question that arises is whether this persistent infighting will hit the Congress’s poll prospects in Uttarakhand. The answer is a clear yes. The internal feuds are not occurring away from the public eye, and voters are well aware that the party is divided.
A senior political journalist, D.S. Kunwar, feels that the wrong distribution of tickets and internal rifts may extensively damage the Congress in multiple seats. “Take the Ram Nagar seat, if Harish Rawat had contested from there then he may have to face humiliating defeat against Ranjeet Rawat who is all set to contest as an independent candidate. Since Harish Rawat is being seen as a spent force in Congress, he must help get tickets for strong candidates close to Preetam Singh. If Harish Rawat decides to deny tickets to Preetam Singh’s men, it may cause trouble for the Congress party in the upcoming assembly polls.”
BJP spokesperson and state vice president Devendra Bhasin said he is not surprised at the intense power struggle and infighting within the Congress. “During N.D. Tiwari’s time, Harish Rawat was leading the rebel group against first Tiwari and then Vijay Bahuguna. Now he is surrounded by his rivals, who want to dethrone him. So, in a nutshell, infighting and pulling down others within the party is Congress culture in Uttarakhand and nationally also.”
Doon-based political journalist Pawan Lalchand feels that the cold war and the intense infighting between the different groups of the Congress would severely hit their poll prospects. “Even though Congress has a good chance to do well in the Nainital district, which has six assembly seats, due to Harish and Ranjit’s battle now the Congress is in trouble. Both warring Congress leaders had chosen the Ram Nagar seat. Thankfully now the Congress have shifted both of them out of Ram Nagar, but that does not mean all is well in the Congress. Internal rivalry will hit the Congress’s poll prospects,” said Lalchand