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Uttarakhand Polls: BJP Looks for ‘Winning Formula’ while Congress Comes up with ‘Punjab Formula’

Both the key parties are facing discontent within their state leadership ahead of the Assembly polls due next year.
Uttrakhand politics

Senior Uttarakhand Congress leaders (from right to left) Harish Rawat, Kishore Upadhaya, party general secretary In-charge Devender Yadav, New Uttarakhand Congress chief Ganesh Godiyal and leader of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) Pritam Singh at the installation ceremony of the new office bearers in Dehradun on Tuesday.

Dehradun: Monsoon is the worst time to be in the hills as people living in remote mountainous areas of Uttarakhand suffer from the vagaries of weather, such as cloud bursts and frequent landslides that disrupt their lives every year. They await government agencies to repair roads and provide them succour.

However, this monsoon season is different. While people continue to suffer in the state, the game of musical chairs played by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in replacing two Chief Ministers within five months has resulted in uncertainty among the bureaucracy.

The ruling BJP, which had won an unprecedented 57 Assembly seats out of the total 70 seats, has had three Chief Ministers in the past four and half years. As a result, frequent bureaucratic reshuffles were done by two new Chief Ministers in the past few months to bring in their own favourites. This has led to loss of governance.

The ruling BJP leaders, however, claim that the new Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, is trying his best to provide governance. “He is a young, efficient person, who has energised the entire bureaucracy in less than a month after taking over,” claimed Devender Bhasin, a senior party functionary.    

The state of affairs could be gauged from the fact that people suffered much during the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the state government getting frequent reprimands from the Nainital High Court on its lack of preparedness to deal with the pandemic, holding of the Kumbh Mela and start of ‘Char Dham’ yatra. The High court has stayed the ‘Char Dham yatra’ till August 18, in view of the fear of a third wave of the pandemic.

Amidst all the sufferings of the people, who lack health and educational facilities in the hills, job losses due to ban on the Yatra and tourism, the two major political parties, the ruling BJP and main opposition Congress are busy handling factional fights in the run up to the Assembly polls, scheduled to be held early next year.

The ruling BJP has been trying permutations and combinations by frequently replacing Chief Ministers in its’ quest for a winning formula. The utterances and comments by two former Chief Ministers against each other point to something wrong in BJP.

The resentment shown by two senior chief ministers -- Harak Singh Rawat and Satpal Maharaj -- on the elevation of Pushkar Singh Dhami as Chief Minister has brought to the fore the fault lines between hardcore BJP leaders and those who were previously in the Congress party. During Trivendra Singh Rawat’s tenure of four years, five ministers with Congress background, namely Harak Singh Rawat, Satpal Maharaj, Rekha Arya, Yashpal Arya and Subodh Uniyal, were sulking as they were not given a ‘free hand’ in running their departments.

Moreover, local BJP leaders are also unhappy over being ignored by former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat in giving them government positions with ministerial ranks for three years. Finally, when he tried to placate them by giving them positions, he was replaced in March.

The new Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, in a bid to show that he meant business, removed many of those close to Trivendra Singh Rawat, brewing further resentment within the party.    

The BJP high command as well as the Rashtriya Swatamsevak Sangh or RSS has been worried about these issues and had been working overtime to sort things out before the Assembly polls due next year.  

Congress factionalism

On the other hand, the situation is no different in main opposition, the Congress party, which has been trying to dislodge BJP in the Assembly polls.

In a show of so-called unity within the Uttarakhand Congress, the newly selected team of the party office-bearers, as per the “Punjab Formula” of one President and four working presidents, was put in place at a function held here on Tuesday.

The installation function had the  clear imprint of senior leader and former Chief Minister Harish Rawat written all over it. It was a show of strength by Harish Rawat, party general secretary in-charge of Punjab, who again showed that it was he who mattered in the Uttarakhand Congress despite verbal utterances by senior party leaders of putting up a united front to challenge the ruling BJP in the Assembly polls.

In Punjab, Harish Rawat, who is party general secretary in-charge of the state, acted as a go-between the party high command and Punjab Congress leaders leading of the installation of Navjot Singh Sidhu as stateparty president along with four other working presidents. In Uttarakhand, he was able to get Ganesh Godiyal, a former legislator from Pauri Garhwal district and one of his confidants, as state Congress chief.

Pritam Singh, the outgoing state Congress chief, who is a four-time legislator from Chakrata Assembly segment, was sent packing as leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).  Kicking and screaming, he yielded to the high command’s diktat but not before getting some of his own men appointed as working presidents.

The ‘show of unity’, as claimed by party leaders, including state general secretary in-charge Devender Yadav was marred by sloganeering by supporters of Harish Rawat, when Pritam Singh rose to address the meeting. Harish Rawat had to tell his supporters not to raise slogans.

Moreover, both Congress factions -- one led by Harish Rawat and the other by Pritam Singh -- reached Congress Bhawan in different processions. While, Harish Rawat, along with the new state party chief Godiyal came from Jolly Grant airport in a cavalcade of vehicles, Pritam Singh preferred to go with his supporters from a designated venue where they assembled.

The sudden death last month of senior party leader, Indira Hriydesh, who was CLP leader and a bitter opponent of Harish Rawat, has changed the contours of Uttarakhand Congress. During the past four years, Indira Hriydesh-Pritam Singh duo had checked the influence of Harish Rawat, who had been sulking.

Being the senior-most leader with a pan-Uttarakhand image, Rawat had demanded that the party should come up with a chief ministerial face to challenge the BJP in the 2022 elections, which was opposed by the Indira-Pritam duo. But, things changed after the demise of Hriydesh. Harish Rawat started demanding that Singh be made CLP leader and that a Garhwali Brahmin should be appointed as state party chief. He was able to convince the party high command on Godiyal, his own candidate, while Singh had to contend with his candidates’ as working presidents. Bhuwan Kapri, Jeet Ram, a former legislator, Tilak Raj Behad, a former minister and Ranjeet Rawat, a former legislator  were appointed working presidents.

Singh was able to get Ranjeet Rawat, a close aide-turned- bitter foe of Harish Rawat as one of the working Presidents. Even during his speech on Tuesday, Ranjeet Rawat took a dig at Harish Rawat through a Urdu couplet which roughly translated said that “a quivering hand cannot hold a sword”.            

The issue regarding the face of the party for the assembly polls, more or less has been settled with Harish Rawat heading the party’s campaign committee. But, Pritam Singh, who once was a protégé of Harish Rawat, is not taking things lying down after being sidelined.

On being asked about the Congress party’s as chief ministerial face, Singh counter questioned journalists, asking them what was wrong with his face.

On the other side, supporters of Harish Rawat are claiming that his would be the face of the party. However, Harish Rawat himself has refrained from declaring himself a CM candidate. He has toed the official party line stated by general secretary in-charge Devender Yadav, that elections would be fought collectively and the Chief Minister would be appointed by the party leadership after the party wins the assembly polls.

Political observers believe that after the demise of Indira Hriydesh, the question of leadership in Uttarakhand Congress was clear as none could match the stature and reach of Harish Rawat.

“But being a shrewd politician, Harish Rawat did not want to take any chance in ticket distribution and wanted his own person as Uttarakhand Congress chief so that maximum number of his own candidates can be given party mandate,” said Jai Singh Rawat, a senior journalist of the state.  

Uttarakhand Congress has been facing factionalism since the state was formed in 2000. After the first ever Assembly elections in 2002, senior party leader, late N.D.Twari was selected by party high command to become the chief minister much to the chagrin of Harish Rawat who as state party chief had led the party to victory.

For the next five years from 2002 to 2007, Harish Rawat played the role of opposition against his bête noire N.D.Tiwari.  

After the 2012 Assembly polls, when Harish Rawat was ignored and Vijay Bahuguna was preferred as Chief Minister, he continued to exert pressure on the party leadership along with his own loyal legislators, for a change of guard. Bahuguna lost his job after the Kedarnath disaster and Harish Rawat finally became Chief Minister in 2014.

This constant sniping led 10 party legislators opposed to Harish Rawat, led by Vijay Bahuguna, to leave the party to join BJP in 2016. However, the party suffered its most humiliating defeat in the 2017 Assembly polls which was fought under his leadership.

Time and again, despite the semblance of unity on the surface, both the factions are getting ready to fight it out amongst themselves in the distribution of party tickets. 

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Uttarakhand.

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