Dehradun: As Congress leaders in Delhi deliberate on his fate, there is a sharp divide in the party’s Uttarakhand leadership over the possible return of former cabinet minister Harak Singh Rawat — who was expelled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sunday.
While Harak Singh Rawat has issued an apology for his 2016 defection, the Congress’ election campaign head and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat and his supporters have vehemently opposed his re-entry into the party, .
“I have nothing personal with him (Harak Singh), but what he did along with other defectors in 2016 was anti-Congress, anti-democracy and against the parliamentary traditions of the country and state,” Harish Rawat told ThePrint.
“Harak Singh and other party MLAs defected and tried to dislodge the Congress government with help of BJP. It was a betrayal of the people of Uttarakhand. They ditched the Congress. The party high-command has to keep that in mind before taking any decision on him,” he added.
In March 2016, former Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna left the Congress with eight other MLAs, including Harak Singh, and joined the BJP, leaving the then Harish Rawat government in minority. This was followed by imposition of President’s rule in the state by the Centre.
While Harish Rawat was able to prove majority on the floor of the house after the Supreme Court’s intervention, the incident led to over two months of political turmoil in the state.
Meanwhile, another group of state leaders, including Leader of Opposition in Uttarakhand assembly Pritam Singh, is in support of the expelled BJP leader’s desire to return to the Congress.
Pritam Singh said the final decision will be taken by the party high-command. “It’s true that Harak Singh Rawat ditched the party in 2016 but he has also apologised for that,” he added.
After his expulsion Sunday, Harak Singh Rawat had said he would now join the Congress.
Contacted by ThePrint, All India Congress Committee (AICC) state in-charge Devendra Yadav said: “Harak Singh Rawat has approached us and talks are on with the AICC leadership on his induction in the party. Although Harish Rawat is opposed to the idea, we are trying to resolve the issue in the next 24 hours. He had been with the party in the past.”
“The final decision rests on the Congress president irrespective of what we say,” he added.
Party sources said that even if Harak Singh is brought back into Congress, he will not get the chance to contest the 14 February state assembly elections.
‘Opportunist, habitual defector’
Congress MLA from Kedarnath Manoj Rawat, who shares Harish Rawat’s view, alleged that Harak Singh and eight other Congress legislators had conspired with the BJP in 2016.
“Harak Singh Rawat with the other party MLAs defected to the BJP in an attempt to murder democracy in the state. Even the Supreme Court of India acknowledged this during the hearing of a petition against President’s rule imposed by the Centre, and called them enemies of democracy. A common Congress worker was hurt by their action in 2016 and has not forgotten it,” he told ThePrint.
Manoj Rawat further alleged Harak Singh is “a habitual defector”.
“He has no loyalty towards any organisation, but only for his own and extended family. He is least concerned about the well-being of the people of Uttarakhand and has always played with their aspirations,” he added.
Another Congress MLA, Furkan Ahmed, who represents Piran Kaliyar, said Harak Singh had always been an “opportunist”.
“He frequently shifted his loyalties to suit his interests. He was part of those who ditched the Congress. We fully support Harish Rawat’s views that the party leadership must look into what Harak Singh and others did with the party in 2016 before finalising the decision on him,” he added. “They conspired with BJP to dislodge our government despite the fact that the party gave them everything.”
Similar views were expressed by Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) vice-president Prithvipal Chauhan. “Congress workers are unwilling to welcome Harak Singh Rawat into the organisation. There is a huge resentment among them against him. He cannot be an asset for the party,” he said.
“Besides, this party will find it difficult to accommodate him in ticket distribution for the ensuing elections. Our workers and leaders cannot be ignored to accommodate him,” he added.
Pritam Singh noted that while Harak Singh Rawat “ditched the party in 2016”, he has “also apologised for that”.
“At the same time, he has a strong base and political standing among voters. Talks are going on on his return to the Congress and the matter is under consideration with the party leadership. Final decision has to come from the central leadership,” he added.
Have risen above my desire for party ticket: Harak Singh
Harak Singh Tuesday extended an apology to former CM Harish Rawat, saying he has no qualms in asking him for forgiveness even though the latter “was also at fault”.
“Harish Rawat is like an elder brother to me. Although I am not alone responsible for what happened in 2016 — he too was responsible for it — but if Harish Rawat thinks it was only my fault, I fully extend my apology with folded hands,” he told ThePrint.
Asked if he was willing to join the Congress irrespective of whether he gets an election ticket, he said: “I have risen above my desire to demand party ticket. I am willing to work for the Congress irrespective of my wishes and demands. I will not have any condition in rejoining my parent party. It was indeed a blunder to join the BJP in 2016.”
Harak Singh has not lost a single election he has contested in Uttarakhand.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)