In Poll-Bound Uttarakhand, Congress Taking Steps to Curb Infighting

With Harish Rawat leading the Congress's campaign in the state, the party appears to be in the running to pose a serious challenge to the ruling BJP.

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New Delhi: With the announcement of dates for the assembly elections in Uttarakhand due soon, the Congress appears to have taken the lead in in setting its house in order in the state, in the face of a stiff challenge posed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The party realises that wooing voters will not be enough to secure a victory in the state this time; it needs to be able to keep its flock together. As such, it has taken quick steps to bring the entire state leadership together, ahead of the ticket finalisation process.

The party had been witnessing a tug of war between former chief minister Harish Rawat and its All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge for Uttarakhand, Devender Yadav. However, after the former tweeted that he was being made to work with his “hands tied”, party leadership moved in to quell the disaffection.

The tweet that stirred the party into action

A few days before Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was set to visit the state, Rawat created waves when, without naming names, he tweeted: “The representatives of those on whose orders I have to swim are tying my hands and feet”.

Rawat was ostensibly peeved at the way in which the party’s central leadership had been acting in the state through AICC state in-charge Yadav.

In order to quickly bury the crisis looming in its Uttarakhand unit, the Congress made Rawat chairman of the campaign committee for the upcoming polls. However, the questions which still remains in the minds of the people is: Why did the party’s central leadership make Rawat feel uneasy? After all, he remains the Congress’s biggest face in the state.

Rawat was entrusted with Punjab, but faced trouble at home

Until late October last year, Rawat was in charge of the Congress in Punjab. His tenure was quite eventful to say the least; it featured a rebellion against former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh which culminated in the senior Sikh leader’s ouster from the post and precipitated his subsequent exit from the party.

The change in leadership which followed saw Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi take up the post of chief minister. Around the same time, Rawat had said that the Congress should adopt a similar strategy in Uttarakhand. While his words were an attempt to woo Dalit voters in the state, subsequent developments indicated that he had higher aspirations and remained keen on leading the party’s charge.

Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi, PPCC President Navjot Singh Sidhu, Congress Punjab in-charge Harish Chaudhary and Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana KP Singh meet party leader Harish Rawat, in Dehradun, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Photo: PTI

Also read: How Close Is Uttarakhand to Electing a Dalit CM?

The Congress, however, appeared to be playing a double game of its own. While the party entrusted Rawat with the sensitive job of leading the campaign, it used Yadav – who is only a former two-term Delhi legislator and has never held any ministerial post anywhere – to pander to other leaders who are seen as Rawat’s rivals in the state.

Rawat’s camp complained of interference

Rawat was irked when, at the insistence of the rival camp, posters of him were taken down ahead of Gandhi’s visit. Thereafter, the Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee’s (PCC) media adviser Surendra Aggarwal, who is considered a Rawat loyalist, went on record to say, “…there is too much interference by the AICC state in-charge in PCC activities and decisions.”

In fact, this was one of the reasons why PCC chief Ganesh Godiyal supported Rawat during the meeting with senior party leaders in Delhi.

However, the rift in the party appears to have set aside for the time being. The Congress has started the process of shortlisting names of candidates for the 70 assembly seats. As one senior party leader indicated, it has also found a convenient way to assuage any hurt feelings: by not imposing any ban on giving tickets to the children of senior party leaders.

‘One family, one ticket’ may not be the norm

In an effort to quell any infighting, the party is likely to give its ‘one family, one ticket’ policy a pass this time. Rawat’s daughter Anupama, national general secretary of the Mahila Congress, is seeking a ticket from any one of the three specific assembly seats in the Hardwar district. There are 14 assembly seats which fall within the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency from which Rawat was elected in 2009; 11 are in the Haridwar district while three are in the Dehradun district. Rawat’s two sons, Virendra and Anand, have also expressed their desire to contest elections.

Similarly, Pritam Singh, leader of the Opposition in the assembly, has sought a ticket for his son Abhishek and former senior minister, Yashpal Arya, who re-joined the Congress after leaving BJP in October last year, has asked for one for his son Sanjiv. Likewise, former leader Indira Hridayesh’s son Sumit, has sought a ticket.

Accommodating the requests of these leaders may prove to be a simple solution to the bickering and dissent within the Congress which adversely impacted its electoral outcomes in the state in 2017. The fact that several BJP leaders as well as state AAP working president and former IPS officer Anant Ram Chauhan have chosen to join the party recently may indicate that the Congress in now seen as a serious contender to form the next Uttarakhand government.