It’s a tripartite contest, they say in Uttarakhand — the players being Chief Minister Harish Rawat, the Sangathan (Pradesh Congress Committee) and the BJP. In the faction-ridden Congress, Rawat and his aide-turned-rival PCC chief Kishore Upadhyaya are fighting it out in public on every possible aspect, to the extent that Rawat’s specially designed election vehicles omitted a photograph of Upadhyaya, leaving the PCC fuming.
On Saturday, Upadhyaya conceded during a press conference that the state Congress is running on “two axes”. On Sunday, asked about the perception that the party is divided into two camps, Rawat smiled: “You can make any analysis.”
Some major points of disagreement:
ALLIANCE: Rawat wants an alliance with the Progressive Democratic Front; Upadhyaya does not. With the 70 tickets in the process of finalised, Rawat has repeatedly said the Congress would contest 63 and leave the rest to the front. But Upadhyaya told The Indian Express, “The Congress will contest all 70 seats on its symbol. There is no second opinion to it.” While the Upadhyaya-led PCC is opposed to the PDF, Rawat has accommodated four PDF ministers — three Independent and one from Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (P) — in his cabinet of nine. A strong PDF suits Rawat while a third front of any strength would have made it difficult for any party to form a majority government. That was the situation in 2012. If that happens again, the high command would have to fall back on Rawat for his organising skills. Upadhyaya has gone to Delhi to convince the central leadership about what he believes is the futility of a formal tie-up with the PDF.
ACCOMMODATING INDEPENDENTS: Dinesh Dhanai won the Tehri seat in 2012 as an independent candidate, defeating Upadhyaya. When Rawat became the CM in 2014, he inducted Dhanai in his cabinet and gifted him seven portfolios, among them the important ones of tourism and culture. Dhanai has already declared he would contest again from Tehri. A move seen as having the tacit support of the chief minister, it is not going down well with the PCC chief.
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There has been a similar face-off over another MLA earlier. Rawat had declared that Lalkuwa’s Independent MLA, Harish Chandra Durgapal, would join the Congress. When Upadhyaya refused to facilitate Durgapal’s entry, Rawat hit back by inducting the independent MLA in his cabinet. Durgapal, still an independent, holds six portfolios today.
TICKETS TO RELATIVES: Rawat and several of his close aides in the cabinet are said to be trying to secure tickets for their relatives. Rawat’s camp reportedly wants his daughter fielded from Hardwar Rural, his cabinet colleague Yashpal Arya reportedly wants his son from Bajpur, and Finance Minister Indira Hridyesh her son from her home constituency. Upadhyaya, however, has been repeating the slogan: “One family, one ticket”.
The tussle between the CM’s camp and the PCC has been going on for almost two years. When Rawat was facing a crisis after a CD emerged last year purportedly showing him negotiating for the support of rebel Congress MLAs, the PCC left him on his own to fight a battle that he eventually won.
The Congress has been demanding that Gairsain, a small town in Chamoli, be made the capital. Gairsain was conceived as the capital before the creation of Uttarakhand; Dehradun was merely a temporary capital. However, while an assembly building has been built in Gairsain and an assembly session held there last November, Rawat has been noncommittal about shifting. “We will first develop infrastructure and then seek people’s opinion,” he has often said.
The formation of new districts was in the party’s 2012 manifesto. The PCC has been asking the government to fulfil the demand.