Updated: March 12, 2017 10:14:41 am
THE IRONY of the election result in Uttarakhand may lie in the twin defeats of outgoing Chief Minister Harish Rawat. Although the Congress finished with a tally of only 11 seats — its worst ever defeat since the hill state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 — not many party members seem disappointed that their leader is vacating the chief minister’s residence.
Apprehending a defeat in his home seat, Dharchula, and hoping to place a foot each in the plains of Garhwal and Kumaon, Rawat had contested from Haridwar Rural and Kichha. But amid the overall Congress rout, party candidate Harish Dhami won Dharchula, defeating his BJP rival Virendra Singh Pal by a decent margin of just over 3,000 votes.
Rawat lost from both seats – at Haridwar by a huge margin of 12,278 seats.
If the BJP banked on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name, the Congress in Uttarakhand had Rawat as its sailor. All those who had defected from the party had blamed Rawat’s “arrogance” as the reason for their switch of allegiance – and as the chief minister he had generated enough dissent even among those who remained in the party fold.
“I accept the double responsibility (of losing both his seats as well as the overall state election),” said Rawat, who was often seen accommodating Independent MLAs at the cost of his party leaders.
Although he is considered among the toughest political survivors in Uttarakhand and the only leader in the state with “considerable Delhi experience” as a Central minister, Rawat’s clout now stands drastically diminished. Few of his candidates have won, and with Modi already indicating that he has the “janm kundali” of all Congress leaders, the buzz here is about the possibility of cases being opened against him by the new regime in Dehradun.
Besides Rawat, state Congress chief Kishore Upadhyaya also lost — from Sahaspur, a seat he was not too keen on contesting from. While Rawat can at least manoeuvre his way around, Upadhyaya might find it difficult to create his political space in the coming months.
As the Congress faces an existential crisis, the first tough call for the party leadership in Delhi is to choose the next Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, and the state unit president.
Among major state Congress leaders, only Indira Hridayesh (Haldwani) has won, and the party’s only saving grace is that its candidate Karan Mahara defeated BJP state president and sitting MLA Ajay Bhatt at his home seat of Ranikhet. Hridayesh, who always worked a few notches below Rawat, can now emerge as the new power centre in state Congress. A politically astute Brahmin leader, she has no love lost for Rawat, and fresh wounds might soon open up within the Congress.
For revival, the party would now have to bring up some concrete issues and slogans in the state, otherwise it faces a scenario in which out of sight may just be out of mind for the people.
The party’s revival also depends on the space the BJP is willing to give its 11 MLAs — within or outside the Assembly. A ruthless BJP regime, with its agenda of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, might plug the slightest openings the Congress may hope for.
A day before the results, when asked by The Sunday Express why the ruling party was so short of resources during its campaign, Rawat had said: “We did not have funds.. The way (income tax) raids began here three months before, businessmen were threatened…after that no one could have dared to give us donation.”
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