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Less Rahul & other central leaders, Congress to make Harish Rawat star of Uttarakhand campaign

Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are likely to address just seven rallies, with no role planned for other central leaders, in a campaign that will largely be 'former CM Harish Rawat vs BJP'.

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Dehradun: The fast-approaching 2022 Uttarakhand assembly polls will likely see a diminished campaigning role for the Congress’ central leadership, including Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. Party leaders have claimed that the two will address just seven rallies in all, while the prospect of any other national leaders campaigning in the state isn’t on the radar. 

Uttarakhand Congress leaders told ThePrint that the party would have three “real star campaigners” in the polls — Rahul, Priyanka and former chief minister Harish Rawat — although a longer list would be maintained in keeping with the party’s tradition of having a battery of names in reserve, to be deployed if needed.

Speaking to ThePrint, Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) vice-president Prithvipal Chauhan said, “For now, it’s almost certain that Rahul Gandhi will address four election rallies and Priyanka will address three. The third big face will be Harish Rawat as this state election will largely be a battle between the former CM and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even Amit Shah made this clear in his last Dehradun rally when he mainly attacked Rawat.”

Chauhan added that Rawat and the election candidates would manage more than 90 per cent of the campaigning. This is something of a departure from precedent, as well-known central Congress leaders have been much more involved in the past.

While Rahul addressed around 6 or 7 rallies in 2017, Priyanka wasn’t part of the campaign.

Meanwhile, the party is set to clear half the tickets for the 70-member assembly in the first week of January 2022, as its election screening committee for Uttarakhand began the candidate selection process in Delhi Wednesday. 

Also read: Rahul Gandhi makes it clear Rawat is in charge of Uttarakhand polls — but doesn’t name CM face

Central leaders will be invited ‘on the basis of strategic need’

Leaders who addressed rallies ahead of the 2017 Uttarakhand assembly polls include former Madhya Pradesh CM Digvijaya Singh, and former Union ministers Salman Khurshid, Anand Sharma, Sachin Pilot, and Jitendra Singh. Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, former Jammu and Kashmir CM Ghulam Nabi Azad and others were also invited personally by party nominees, and addressed rallies.

This time, however, Uttarakhand Congress leaders claimed that central leaders from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) would be called on only when the need arose.

PCC media adviser Surendra Kumar Aggarwal said, “As of now, there is no talk about the names of other AICC leaders likely to campaign in the Uttarakhand polls, but it will depend on the demands from the party units in the respective assembly constituencies.”

He added, “There is no doubt that the 2022 Uttarakhand assembly polls will mainly be about Harish Rawat versus the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). All state BJP leaders and those coming from Delhi, including heavyweights like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, have targeted only Harish Rawat. However, central leaders will be called for campaigning on the basis of strategic need.” 

Rawat, then the sitting chief minister, was the party’s face for the 2017 campaign as well, and addressed 86 rallies in the run-up to the polls.

Senior Congress spokesperson Mathura Dutt Joshi said the party wouldn’t need central leaders other than the Gandhis for the campaign.

“It’s a known fact that after Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka, the only demand by party workers in Uttarakhand will be for Harish Rawat. It’s not that other AICC leaders will be screened off completely from campaigning in the state, but there will be fewer names than in past elections.” said Joshi.    

Party leaders emphasised that, besides Rawat, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, Rajya Sabha MP Pradeep Tamta and former PCC president Yashpal Arya — who returned to the party a couple of months ago after a stint with the BJP — would have more impact than other (non-Gandhi) AICC leaders.

However, they added that party workers and leaders from neighbouring states may be invited. “A few select Congress leaders from Himachal Pradesh may be helpful in the constituencies adjoining their state. This can be our strategic need, on which the election campaign committee will take a final call,” said Aggarwal.

Also read: Can Dhami break the losing streak? Uttarakhand’s CMs haven’t had much luck at the polls

Half the tickets cleared, helicopters to reach hills

The election screening committee led by AICC leader Avinash Pandey Wednesday cleared the names of all 10 sitting MLAs who won in the 2017 Uttarakhand assembly polls. 

“Besides them, the then sitting MLAs and those who lost the 2017 polls by a narrow margin have also been identified. This may take the total tally to nearly 35 candidates whose names may be announced early next month,” said Pritam Singh, who is also a screening committee member.       

“Nearly 500 applications from all 70 assembly segments were taken up for screening Wednesday, and only half of them could be finalised to be forwarded to the AICC leadership.”

Meanwhile, the state election campaign committee has decided to hire two helicopters to reach out to remote hill assembly segments during the campaign. Party leaders said Rawat himself had come up with the idea in a meeting, as the party had identified more than 30 assembly segments that aren’t easily accessible by road.

Three or four groups of leaders will be formed under Rawat and Pritam Singh to fly to these areas.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: How BJP and Congress in poll-bound Uttarakhand are invoking late CDS Rawat’s name


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