In the budget session shortly after he took oath as Uttarakhand chief minister in February, Harish Rawat had pleaded with an aggressive opposition to treat him as a nai bahu who should not be saddled with too much work. “This bahu,” a BJP MLA joked, “will one day take over the entire house.”
In the Lok Sabha elections, it was the BJP that won all five seats. But since then, the Congress has beaten the odds to sweep the byelections to three assembly seats last month and then the panchayat polls last week, winning the post of zilla panchayat chairperson in nine of 12 districts, with polls not held to the 13th, Hardwar. The BJP’s strength in the 70-member assembly fell to 28, with losses in the seats vacated by new MPs Ramesh Pokhriyal and Ajay Tamta. In the panchayat polls, at least two BJP rebels backed by the Congress became zilla panchayat chairmen.
Coming after the Lok Sabha victory on the back of a Narendra Modi wave, the results exposed the poor BJP organisation on the ground. They also put the spotlight on the way Rawat has conducted himself in his efforts to rejuvenate the party and his government.
The chief minister has sought to make himself accessible to the public at the Bijapur guest house, his temporary residence. By June 13, when he was injured in an emergency landing of his helicopter, Rawat had toured almost the entire state to meet people. He works at least 12 hours a day, says a source in his camp office, though these days he rests a few hours in the afternoon because of the neck injury.
A number of administrative decisions, too, are seen as having bolstered his public image and in turn contributed to the election victories. The government has upgraded 265 schools from middle to high, created eight new tehsils, and opened at least 10 new departments, whose work Rawat reviews frequently, to deal with issues that people identify with, especially in the hills.
The Goat and Sheep Rearing Department, dealing with a major source of income for people in the hills, is working on new schemes with an view to creating a market and facilitating loans for people who breed these. The Fodder and Grazing Field Development Department will identify and create such fields. Also new is the Border Areas Development Department, while the Rural Road and Drainage Department has been carved out of Rural Development.
Rawat has taken his cabinet meetings to interior parts of the state. In September, he plans one at Kedarnath, which bore the brunt of the June 2013 flash floods.
The Congress also appears to have benefited from bickering within the BJP. B C Khanduri, Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Pokhriyal have gone to Delhi, leaving no prominent leader on the ground. Besides, not one MP from Uttarakhand is in the Modi cabinet.