Having barely wrested power from the BJP,the Congress government today got off to a shaky start in Uttarakhand with just 11 of the partys 32 MLAs present at the swearing-in of Vijay Bahuguna as chief minister.
A contender for the CMs post,Harish Rawat submitted his resignation as Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs to the party. At least 14 Congress MLAs were holed up at the Delhi residence of the MP,who enjoys support of a large chunk of the party legislators. Rawats supporters said three-four other legislators would join him.
A former high court judge,Bahuguna,65,was the lone minister to take oath today in a short,solemn ceremony,in front of a thin crowd at the parade ground in Dehradun,as the Congress desperately tried to get its house together. All bets were off till even half an hour before the oath-taking. Bahuguna said six more ministers would be inducted shortly after consultation with senior leaders in Delhi.
Refusing to acknowledge any jitters,Bahuguna said: It is during tough times that you need to take tough decisions… We are all Congressmen. Harish Rawat and other leaders won with Congress tickets. I am sure they will not be able to cooperate with communal forces.
The other contender for the CMs chair,Satpal Maharaj,was present at the swearing-in,along with central Congress observers Ghulam Nabi Azad,Birendra Singh,PCC chief Yashpal Arya,and Bahugunas sister and Uttar Pradesh PCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi.
Uttarakhand Kranti Dal MLA Pritam Singh Panwar and Independent MLAs Mantri Prasad Netani,Harish Durgapal and Dinesh Tanhai who are all supporting the Congress government were also present. However,senior leaders Harak Singh Rawat and Indira Hridayesh stayed away.
Worryingly for the Congress,Rawat appeared to have enough MLAs to split without invoking the anti-defection law. For this he requires the support of only one-third of the elected MLAs. Rawat has been associated with the Congress since his student days.
Harak Rawat,who was vehemently opposing Harish Rawats candidature,also joined hands with him. The future of the new government in Uttarakhand is very bleak. It can continue only for 10-15 days. Harish Rawat is credited with reviving the Congress in Uttarakhand but Bahuguna has no contribution in the state and has been imposed on us, said Harak.
The party high command must give weightage to the MLAs first. In case it had to choose from the MPs,the first right to become the CM was of Harish Rawat, said Harak,who had incidentally also been eyeing the CM post.
Almora MP Pradip Tamta said injustice had been done to Harish Rawat. However,he ruled out the possibility of a split.
The Congress high command continued to talk tough,with Manish Tewari saying: At times,when there are expectations,and legitimate expectations,then there can be a certain sense of disappointment. But those who have served the Congress over all these years,have been through trials and tribulations of political process at times,need to take things in their stride… Leadership demands that personal feelings be surmounted.
Among the state party leaders who welcomed Bahugunas nomination as CM was Harish Rawats old rival N D Tiwari. Bahuguna is an MP from Tehri and a very experienced leader, said Tiwari.
PCC chief Arya,who appeared to have fallen in line and was present by Bahugunas side through the day today,said the decision had been taken with due thought and care.
Bahugunas choice had come as a surprise,with Birendra Singh and Azad having informed Sonia Gandhi that a majority of the legislators supported Harish Rawat. On Sunday,Rawat himself had told the party that he had the support of 14 MLAs and also 3 BSP MLAs. If his being an MP was an issue,he had added,he would ensure that a BJP MLA vacated a seat for him to get elected to the Assembly.
Sonia took a long time making up her mind. On Friday when senior party leaders involved in state affairs met her and made an elaborate presentation on caste equations,she is learnt to have remarked,half in jest: Why dont you find a woman? She will be beyond caste.
That comment had briefly brought Hridayesh and Amrita Rawat,Satpal Maharajs wife,in the reckoning.
A throwback to Jagan crisis
The political situation within the Congress in Uttarakhand came as a stark reminder of the Andhra Pradesh 2009 episode when the party high command had ignored the claims of late Y S Rajasekhar Reddys son Jagan Mohan despite a majority of the MLAs supporting him. Subsequently,Jagan had quit the Congress to float his own political party and emerged as a bane for the party in the state. Incidentally,Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad was the high commands chief envoy and interlocutor in Andhra Pradesh as well.