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Harish Rawat wins first round against Delhi’s lightweight appointee

🔴 The reason was also notably familiar: the growing rift between Rawat, former chief minister and the Congress's tallest leader in Uttarakhand, and AICC in-charge of the state Devender Yadav, a lightweight Delhi politician.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: December 24, 2021 11:51:35 pm
Former Chief minister of Uttarakhand Harish Rawat (left) and Rahul Gandhi. (Express photo)

IN A SCENE now increasingly familiar in the Congress, the high command on Friday summoned its Uttarakhand leaders Harish Rawat, Pritam Singh, Ganesh Godiyal, Kishore Upadhyay and other top leaders, to Delhi for a meeting with Rahul Gandhi Friday, as differences in the state unit spilled into the open two months ahead of Assembly elections in the state.

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The reason was also notably familiar: the growing rift between Rawat, former chief minister and the Congress’s tallest leader in Uttarakhand, and AICC in-charge of the state Devender Yadav, a lightweight Delhi politician. After Rawat made his displeasure public in a cryptic post, Godiyal, the PCC president, had thrown his weight behind the veteran.

A 49-year-old two-time MLA, Yadav belongs to a wealthy family in Delhi with interests in both business and politics. His father Mahender Yadav, also known as Pradhanji, was a small-time Congress politician. A civil engineering degree holder, he entered the Congress “organisation system” some 20 years ago when the then Indian Youth Congress chief Randeep Singh Surjewala inducted him in his committee as a national general secretary.

In 2002, Yadav fought his first election. It was to the Delhi Municipal Corporation. He served as a corporator twice, 2002 and 2007, from Samaypur Badli. In 2008, he was elected to the Delhi Assembly from Badli seat. When the Congress suffered an unprecedented rout in 2013, Yadav was among the eight Congress candidates who managed to weather the storm.

His second stint as an MLA was brief since Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister in February 2014 and fresh elections were held a year later. This time Yadav lost, like all the other Congress candidates.

The Congress, however, rewarded him in 2017, appointing him as an AICC secretary. He was given the task of assisting Avinash Pande, who was elevated as general secretary and given the charge of Rajasthan. Yadav was part of the AICC team involved in the party’s successful election efforts in Rajasthan.

Congress leader Rahul Gandi (right) with AICC in-charge of Uttarakhand Devender Yadav. (Express photo)

In 2019, he was appointed working president of the Delhi Congress when the high command handed over the reins of the party to Sheila Dikshit in a surprise decision months before the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won all the seven Delhi seats.

Yadav lost again from Badli in Assembly elections held last year.

However, there has been no dent in Yadav’s fortunes, and in September last year, he was appointed in charge of Uttarakhand.

Yadav’s insistence on collective leadership was not a surprise given the Congress’s reluctance to name a CM candidate before polls, which could ruffle feathers inopportunely. The only recent exception has been Punjab, when the Congress announced Amarinder Singh as its CM candidate in 2017.

However, Rawat, and many said legitimately, felt that the stress on collective leadership took away his primacy and made him one among the equals. His contention was that the party should give him the lead role even if it didn’t officially anoint him as the CM face.

Adding to Rawat’s insecurity was Yadav’s proximity to a group of leaders led by CLP leader Pritam Singh as well as to working president Ranjeet Rawat, AICC secretary Qazi Nizamuddin and state unit treasurer Aryendra Sharma. Once a close associate of Harish Rawat, Ranjeet Rawat was said to have commented earlier this year that the former chief minister now needs to take rest.

Rawat’s public outburst on social media, sources said, was calculated. “He perhaps wanted to go on the offensive and push Yadav and the others on the defensive so that he can retain the edge when it comes to ticket distribution,” a leader said.

The immediate trigger were developments ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Dehradun last week. Sources close to Rawat claimed his posters and cutouts were “purposely” removed from “main spots” on the eve of the meeting, and he was kept out of the seating arrangements on the dais. “Even the PCC was sidelined,” a leader said.

“Rawat is a shrewd politician. He has made it known that he is unhappy. He did not take any names but everybody knew who his target was. So now there is pressure on the other side. There will be pressure on Yadav too,” a leader said.

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