Dehradun: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress leaders in poll-bound Uttarakhand may be sparring on every issue in the run-up to assembly elections early next year, but they are making a common promise to voters — to implement the “dreams and vision” of the late Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, who died in a helicopter crash last week.
While ruling party leaders frequently invoke Gen. Rawat’s name to buttress their pledge for the development of Uttarakhand, the Congress has demanded the Bharat Ratna for him.
The state is estimated to have 2.5 lakh serving and retired defence personnel and widows — a significant vote bank. Gen. Rawat was born in Pauri Garhwal district and maintained an interest in the region’s development. He also planned to spend his retirement in Uttarakhand.
Speaking at a function in Gen. Rawat’s home district Pauri Sunday, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami vowed to “work for the development of Uttarakhand to fulfill the dreams and vision” of the late CDS. “This land belongs to the martyr General Bipin Rawat. We have lost more a guardian than a general, who always looked forward to the development and growth of Uttarakhand,” Dhami said.
In another statement Sunday, the CM used Rawat’s name to take a pot-shot at the Congress. “When the nation mourned the deaths of General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and officers in a helicopter crash, another political party were enjoying themselves in Goa,” Dhami said, in an apparent reference to a video of Priyanka Gandhi participating in a tribal dance performance.
While former Uttarakhand chief minister and BJP leader Trivendra Singh Rawat told ThePrint that the frequent mentions of Gen. Rawat do not have “political connotations”, other BJP leaders have privately admitted that the party will benefit if the late CDS’ ideas for the state are championed repeatedly during the election campaign.
It is likely, they said, that references to Gen. Rawat’s plans for Uttarakhand will come up frequently during the assembly polls.
Congress leaders are also invoking the late General’s name, and saying they too want a chance to implement his ideas for the development of the state.
Also Read: General Rawat was a transformer and not a mere reformer – a tribute from a vocal critic
BJP intent on taking forward legacy of ‘glory of Uttarakhand’
On Wednesday, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Sainya Dham, a 10-acre ‘shrine’ dedicated to Uttarakhand’s war heroes, which was announced in 2019. The grand ceremonial entrance to the shrine will now be named after Gen. Rawat.
Uttarakhand’s Minister for Industry and Soldier Welfare Ganesh Joshi announced that the Rs 63-crore memorial will be ready in two years.
Gen. Rawat has been the focal point of several other speeches by BJP leaders over the past few days too. Speaking at the Doon University convocation function Wednesday, state Higher Education Minister Dhan Singh Rawat said the Uttarakhand government would do everything it can to ensure that the late CDS’s aspirations for the state would come to fruition.
“General Bipin Rawat wanted to see the educational and economic growth of Uttarakhand, and to work in the same direction. His untimely death has deprived the state of his services, but the state government will ensure that his plans and ideas are brought on the ground in coming days,” the minister said.
Union Minister of State for Defence and Nainital Lok Sabha MP Ajay Bhatt also brought up Gen. Rawat’s name while addressing a public function in Dehradun Wednesday. “General Rawat had many ideas for Uttarakhand. He wanted to work for the state. We came together from Delhi to Dehradun on his last visit on 9 November and he had promised to come again on 10 December when the President of India was to visit Dehradun. Sadly, this time, it was his immortal ashes that came to us,” he said.
Former CM Trivendra Singh made similar promises about implementing Gen. Rawat’s suggestion, at a public function at Lansdowne in Pauri on 11 December.
What were Gen. Rawat’s ideas for Uttarakhand?
Elaborating on Gen. Rawat’s ideas, Trivendra Singh said: “He was always concerned with enhancing the economy and finding measures to stop migration from hill villages, a perennial problem of this state. It was due to his visionary approach that my government planned to convert walnut farming into a major source of income for the people of Uttarakhand. The General had other plans for Uttarakhand too, that he wanted to implement after hanging up his boots as CDS and settling down here.”
This is why, he said, “no political connotations should be seen” behind the statements of BJP leaders.
“There is no harm if the government or party tells the people of Uttarakhand about Gen. Bipin Rawat’s vision for the state. He was a glory of Uttarakhand. The people of Uttarakhand have a right to know the kind of son of the soil General Rawat was… He was a national hero and an inspiration for every person in the state,” the former CM said.
Munna Singh Chauhan, the BJP MLA from Vikas Nagar, Dehradun, also said that there were no political motives behind extolling Gen. Rawat’s vision.
“He was a military leader of exceptional brilliance and the nation has seen it. I met him exactly one month before the unfortunate chopper crash. He revealed his plan to construct a house at a village in Dehradun post retirement,” Munna Singh said. “General Rawat had a deep understanding of the requirements of the people in the hills, especially those along international borders. He had plans to reverse the migration from the Uttarakhand hills. He planned to implement it after his retirement.”
According to Munna Singh, leaders across party lines have the responsibility to tell the people of the General’s views and ethos. “It’s a coincidence that our need to propagate the views and plans of Late General Rawat and elections have come together,” the MLA said.
Congress wants chance to fulfil Gen. Rawat’s ‘wishes’ too
The Congress has also been broadcasting its alignment to Gen. Rawat’s vision, and has demanded that the Bharat Ratna should be conferred upon him. Harish Rawat, former Uttarakhand CM and the chief of the state Congress election campaign committee, last Friday said the late CDS was “a symbol of national security” and “must be decorated with the Bharat Ratna in a special function”.
Harish Rawat told ThePrint that if the Congress comes to power, it will implement Gen. Rawat’s ideas.
“I had the opportunity to speak to the late CDS on a few occasions to learn about his ideas on Uttarakhand. He was an upright officer who spoke of several plans that could be implemented for the well-being of the people of Uttarakhand, especially in remote hill areas. If voted to power, the Congress government will try to fulfil his vision and wishes for the state,” the former CM said.
Mathura Dutt Joshi, senior spokesperson of the state Congress, told ThePrint that the party has already started making concrete plans to this end.
“General Rawat was Uttarakhand’s pride. It’s our moral duty to take his message to the masses. The Congress party has already announced that it will build a road to his ancestral village in Pauri, which is something that has been in demand for several years. General Rawat also wanted to open a school at his village and our state president has already committed to do it if the party returns to power in 2022,” Joshi said.
However, many BJP leaders in Uttarakhand believe that merely keeping General Rawat’s name and ideas in the loop during the elections will help their cause. According to them, even when the Congress brings up Gen. Rawat in its campaign, it is the ruling BJP that will benefit.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
Also Read: Delay in appointing new CDS after Gen. Rawat—Is it about passing the loyalty test?