In 2014, the Lok Sabha polls for Congress on the five seats in Uttarakhand were held under the supervision of senior Congress leader and the then chief minister of Uttarakhand Harish Rawat. However, the Congress lost all five seats to the BJP. In 2017 too he led the party in the state Assembly polls that was deemed as a Rawat versus Modi contest, the BJP emerged victorious in the polls.
Harish Rawat, who is the contesting from Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar seat, in an interview with The Indian Express mentions that the people of Uttarakhand have realised that the Trivendra Rawat government was a failure. This, he says, will help people make better choices in the upcoming polls. Excerpts from the interview:
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You were the face of Congress in the 2017 state Assembly polls. This time the Uttarakhand Congress has no strong face to combat Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image. Will this work against the Congress?
The BJP is seeking votes in the name of Modi, and the Congress is seeking votes for a change. All Congress candidates are campaigning on the same issues. Hence, not having a strong face to represent Congress in Uttarakhand is insignificant.
Instead of seeking votes on the political agenda of the party, why is it that the Congress candidates, including you, are seeking votes against Modi? Do Congress candidates in Uttarakhand feel trapped under an apparent Modi wave?
We are questioning the work done under the Modi government, but this does not mean that we are trying to counter any wave. Speaking on the promises that the Modi government failed to deliver on is natural.
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You lost from two seats in 2017 – Kichha and Haridwar Rural. What do you think has changed in the past two years that the people should vote for you this time?
Many things have changed. People have started comparing my government with the current Trivendra Rawat government and they can see that he’s not performing well so that is in my favour. Also, I continued to work in the state in the capacity of a Congress leader even after I lost the 2017 state Assembly election, so I have people’s sympathy.
How important is this election for your political career?
Every election is equally important to me. I don’t let winning or losing dominate my work in politics, so this election is as important for me as all previous elections I have contested. Also, the 2017 election was a state Assembly election so the format was totally different. We are trying to make this election issue-based.
What is at stake for you and the Congress in Uttarakhand?
I have been the Uttarakhand chief minister and I can say that the roadmap of development that I had led Uttarakhand on was in line with what development should be in a fragile and environmentally rich hill state like Uttarakhand. For the people of Uttarakhand, the right kind of development which is environment-friendly and is not against the ethos of the state is essential. And this is what is at stake for the Congress – the opportunity to lead the state to the right path.
Kedarnath reconstruction was started by you when you were the chief minister in 2014. But, in the past two years, Modi has taken over the reconstruction, projecting that all reconstruction work was done under his leadership. Will Kedarnath reconstruction benefit the BJP?
The pilgrims who are regular visitors of the Kedarnath shrine and the locals of the Kedarnath Valley know the truth. After the (2013) deluge I had started the reconstruction work under tough circumstances in Kedarnath. BJP won’t be able to take the benefit of Kedarnath reconstruction.
Why did you choose to contest from the Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar seat and not the Haridwar seat from which you had won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls?
Haridwar was a more comfortable seat for me than Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar, but I am good at self-evaluation and I felt that I had done so much work in Haridwar when I was elected Lok Sabha MP from the seat in 2009 that even I won’t be able to repeat that kind of performance. People’s expectations from me are high in Haridwar. Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar is a new area for me and I will have to work from scratch here, which is challenging but I’m ready for it
What are the issues on which you are seeking votes from the people of Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar?
There is the issue of failure of the current BJP government in Uttarakhand in terms of lack of development-related activities. There’s deteriorating law and order in the state, lack of employment opportunities, farmers’ suicide, too, is an issue. Then there are national issues like deteriorating internal security. As compared to 2014, there is an increase in Maoist activities. Also, the recent terror attack in Kashmir… These are reflections of the failure of the Modi government.
The BJP has been raking up the issue of nationalism and national security, especially after the Kashmir terror attack. The BJP leaders including Modi have questioned the intentions of the Congress over post-terror attack comments by Congress leaders and the mention of amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the Congress manifesto. How is this projection of the Congress by the BJP going to impact the party’s prospects?
AFSPA cannot be seen in a narrow context. It has to be assessed keeping in mind a larger context. And as far as showing Congress in a bad light on issues of national security goes, it only speaks of the kind of a party BJP is. It is using the Army and nationalism for electoral benefit and people won’t appreciate it.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP candidates have organisational support which Congress candidates are lacking.
I agree that the BJP is better in terms of their organisational structure. But Congress workers are more zealous and have more passion. What Congress needs is to make correct use of the enthusiasm of the workers.