Updated: January 28, 2022 2:10:00 pm
In a significant move ahead of the upcoming Uttarakhand Assembly polls, the Congress released its third list of 10 candidates on Wednesday night, making five changes in its previous lists. The most striking change was the decision shifting former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, the party’s campaign committee chief, to the Lalkuwa constituency from the Ramnagar seat announced earlier.
Congress veteran Harish Rawat is widely seen as the party’s face in the 14 February elections to the 70-member Uttarakhand Assembly. State Congress media in-charge Rajiv Maharshi said the Ramnagar decision was a strategic one based on proper assessment. “Harish Rawat has very good chances in Lalkuwa. He was comfortable from Ramnagar too but Lalkuwa is a better seat for him. Ranjit Rawat, who wanted Ramnagar seat has been given Salt, a seat he has already contested in the past,” he said.
The Congress’s move however clearly reflected its continuing bid to resolve raging discontent among senior party leaders over the ticket distribution.
Harish-Ranjit power tussle
On January 24, the Congress had released its second list of 11 candidates, nominating Harish from the Ramnagar seat. The announcement sparked a row, with state Congress working president Ranjit Rawat openly slamming it. Harish’s friend-turned-foe, Ranjit, who had been staking his claim over Ramnagar, said he has been working in the constituency for the last five years. He accused Harish of allegedly trying to reap what he had sowed.
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Speaking to The Indian Express Thursday, after he was made a Congress candidate from Salt, Ranjit said, “I will accept the challenge of a new seat, but it cannot be denied that damage is done to me. If you change a person’s seat at the last moment, the person does not have enough scope or time…There has been a clear conspiracy against me.”
Congress sources say the tussle between the two leaders is not a new development. A senior party leader, however, said that there was a time when Ranjit was very close to Harish and was considered as one of his “diehard loyalists”. In 2014, when Harish was the CM, Ranjit was appointed his advisor. It is even said that Ranjit had then a say in all major decisions taken by the Harish Rawat government.
After the defeat of the Congress in the 2017 Assembly polls, differences surfaced between them. According to a senior party leader, Ranjit wanted a ticket for his son in the Salt by-election after the death of the incumbent BJP MLA Surendra Singh Jeena, but this was denied. After parting ways with his mentor, he landed in the “anti-Harish” camp.
Ranjit started his political career as a panchayat member in Salt in 1989. He was MLA from Salt in 2002 and 2007, but lost to Jeena in 2012. In 2017, he lost to BJP candidate Diwan Singh Bisht from Ramnagar.
Why Harish was moved out of Ramnagar
Ramnagar is considered to be one of the bellwether seats in Uttarakhand. In 2002, Congress candidate Yogember Singh won the election from here and the party formed the government. The BJP’s Diwan Singh Bisht won the seat in the 2007 polls when the saffron party came to power. Similarly, Congress candidate Amrita Rawat won in 2012 and Diwan Singh Bisht returned as a winner in 2017, with their parties forming their respective governments then.
When the Congress first named Harish from Ramnagar, it appeared that they wanted to follow such a trend. Party leaders close to him also claimed that Ramnagar might not be his home turf, but Harish, 73, had spent his childhood there for some time. Harish will now however contest from Lalkuwa, with the party fielding Mahendra Pal Singh from Ramnagar against the BJP’s sitting MLA Bisht. Mahendra was earlier given the ticket from Kaladhungi.
It seems both Harish and the Congress could not overlook the point that Ranjit could play spoilsport in Ramnagar. They apparently felt that after making preparations in Ramnagar for a long time, a disgruntled Ranjit with his influence in the constituency could cause trouble for Harish’s prospects. This electoral assessment apparently forced the party to shift Harish to a relatively safer seat.
Ahead of the announcement of the second list of the Congress candidates, an audio clip of a purported conversation between Harish and a party worker had gone viral. In the clip, Harish purportedly asks if he should contest from Ramnagar, to which the party worker replies that Ranjit has been preparing from the seat for a long time and that they were with him. Subsequently, talking to reporters, Ranjit said this was bound to happen when someone suddenly arrived somewhere. “If a person is keeping his presence somewhere, the aspirations of people is connected with that person. Rawat ji (Harish) is a big leader, he is our campaign committee chairman. But at a time when the nomination has started and you suddenly say that you want to contest from the seat, this is how a worker will respond,” he said.
Challenges for Congress
With less than three weeks left for the polls, it is evident that the Congress is reeling under factional feuds in its Uttarakhand unit. While the party managed to defuse the Ramnagar crisis, it faced fresh discontent from Sandhaya Dalakoti, who has been replaced with Harish as the party candidate in Lalkuwa. She took to Facebook to blame the Congress, Harish and former party candidate from the seat, Harish Chandra Durgapal, of hurting her by taking the ticket back even though she has been working there as a “dedicated worker”.
Addressing a gathering of women outside her home Thursday, Sandhaya questioned what changed in the last two days that the Congress leadership had to jettison her candidature. She said she will have a meeting in the coming days to decide her future course of action.
Taking a swipe at the Congress, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the Opposition party was unable to take a firm decision and sending Harish from one place to another. “Congress is making a joke of Harish Rawat,” he said.
The Congress’s task is clearly cut out: to keep its flock together by pacifying leaders and aspirants who were not given their desired seats or were denied tickets.
Meanwhile, the Congress on Thursday night named Dhan Singh Negi as its candidate from Tehri. With this, the party has declared all its 70 candidates for the polls.
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