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HomeIndiaHarish Rawat wins this round in faction-ridden Uttarakhand Congress, emerges unchallenged leader

Harish Rawat wins this round in faction-ridden Uttarakhand Congress, emerges unchallenged leader

Rawat is heading the state election campaign committee for 2022 polls while his loyalists are in key party panels. Rivals led by Pritam Singh say change in PCC leadership was ‘untimely and a wrong decision’ by high command.

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Raipur: Despite a humiliating defeat in the 2017 state elections, AICC general secretary and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat has emerged as the unchallenged leader in the faction-ridden state Congress ahead of the 2022 assembly elections.

On July 22, Rawat was named the campaign committee chairman for the upcoming polls. “You could certainly use the word ‘unchallenged’ for Harish Rawat. He also has universal acceptablity in the state. No political party in Uttarakhand has a leader of his stature. His guidance and leadership will help the Congress make a comeback in 2022,” Ganesh Godiyal, who was appointed state PCC chief recently told ThePrint.

It was a victory of sorts for Rawat when his bête noire Pritam Singh was ousted from the post of Uttrakhand party chief.

Singh, who has never lost an MLA election since the formation of Uttarakhand in 2000, however, was made leader of the opposition in the state Assembly, against his wish, after the demise of his predecessor and former senior-most member of the house, Indira Hridayesh.

Singh as PCC president ruled the roost in the party for more than four years but Rawat seems to have won this round by succeeding to capture most of the key PCC offices for himself and his loyalists. Supporters of both camps have, however, been at loggerheads at every party meeting and gathering.

Also read: Nitish, Tejashwi put aside differences to meet on caste census, give BJP the jitters

For and against Rawat

Godiyal is a staunch Rawat loyalist. At every given opportunity, he hails Rawat — who hit the headlines recently for sorting out the leadership crisis in the Punjab Congress between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu — as the tallest leader of the state.

Rawat critics in the party led by Pritam Singh, however, say change in the Uttarakhand PCC leadership was “untimely and a wrong decision” by the high command.

In the 2017 state election, the former Uttarakhand CM lost both his seats — Haridwar (Rural) and Kichcha seats to the BJP — which dented his image in the party.

State PCC general secretary Rajendra Shah said that although “every decision of the high command is accepted in letter and spirit, it was not a right step in an election year.” “Pritam Singh was replaced after he worked hard to strengthen the party in the last four years and built a momentum against the BJP,” Shah added.

Rawat’s dominance in the Uttarakhand Congress is evident — his supporters are on most of the committees constituted by the Congress for the 2022 Assembly elections.

The team handling the poll preparations is filled with Rawat’s men. In the 11-member Uttarakhand State Congress Election Campaign Committee, headed by Rawat, 7 are his loyalists. In the newly constituted 25-member Pradesh Election Committee, more than half the members are leaders and MLAs, who are also backed by Rawat.

Godiyal, commenting about the power equilibrium in these newly constituted committees, said, “It’s not about only Harish Rawat’s supporters or his anti camp. If it’s seen as being dominated by Rawat supporters, it’s a wrong notion. These committees have members from every section, be it from different factions, or areas from across the state.”

Leaders in anti-Rawat camp were once his loyalists

After former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, Satpal Maharaj, another prominent Rawat rival joined the BJP ahead of the 2017 state elections.

Bahuguna defected from the Congress along with eight other party MLAs including four ministers of the Rawat cabinet in 2016, while Maharaj had joined the BJP immediately after Rawat took over as Chief Minister in 2014.

This left the Uttarakhand Congress with no big political names except for Harish Rawat.

Even Pritam Singh was once a Rawat loyalist. Singh was one of the MLAs who raised the banner of revolt against the AICC leadership in 2012 when Bahugana was made chief minister ignoring Rawat’s claim. Later Singh changed sides after Bahuguna established his government.

The newly appointed PCC working presidents Bhuwan Kapdi and Ranjit Rawat were also Harish Rawat’s close associates till 2017 elections. Ranjit Rawat was the principal advisor and the most trusted lieutenant of Harish Rawat as CM.

‘Punjab Formula’ in Uttarakhand

Party leaders are now trying hard to downplay the frequent face-off between pro and anti-Rawat camps in order to put together a united front ahead of the polls. According to them, the central leadership has taken note of the factionalism and efforts are being made to calm everyone down.

“The High Command is working on it. There are differences but senior party leaders in Delhi have already taken notice of the things and the situation is coming under control now. The election will be fought under joint leadership since our means and ends are one while routes taken may be different,” said PCC’s Garhwal media in-charge Garima Dasauni.

It’s interesting that due to factionalism, the Congress high command was forced to appoint four PCC working presidents July-end as demanded by Pritam Singh. This was done knowing full well the dominance of Harish Rawat in the party.

A senior PCC office bearer, who did not want to be named, said, “This step was taken as Singh demanded the same Punjab formula that was used to keep Navjot Sidhu under check. Interestingly, the appointment of working presidents in Punjab PCC was the brainchild of Harish Rawat. This is the first time, Uttarakhand Congress has had four working presidents in its history.”

CM face Achilles’ heel for Uttarakhand Congress

The issue of who would be projected as chief minister has become the Achilles’ heel for Uttarakhand Congress as supporters of both Rawat and Pritam Singh miss no opportunity to face-off — especially after Godiyal’s elevation as new PCC chief and the formation of the committees with an eye on the 2022 assembly polls.

Both factions virtually came to blows during a function to celebrate Godiyal’s elevation as PCC chief at the state Congress headquarters, Rajiv Bhawan, on July 27. Pritam Singh refused to address the gathering. Supporters of both factions also started to demand their leaders be declared CM candidates.

Later, Singh replying to a media query said “Why this demand [of Rawat being declared the ‘CM face’] is being raised time and again. What’s wrong with my face?”

“Now is the time the high command should promote a younger leadership in the organisation” added Rajendra Shah as he tried to downplay the claims of 73-year old Harish Rawat.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: 68% in Uttarakhand think it was ‘irresponsible’ to organise Kumbh this year, survey shows


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