Dehradun: When Uttarakhand minister Harak Singh Rawat was expelled from the BJP Sunday for allegedly engaging in anti-party activities ahead of the upcoming assembly polls, his tearful response was captured on camera. However, Rawat is a clear-eyed politician who has had a long track record of party-hopping.
The state BJP has suspected for several months that Rawat has been liaising with leaders from the opposition Congress, but the last straw came when he did not show up for the party’s core committee meeting in Delhi on 15 January to finalise the panels for assembly poll tickets (Rawat claimed he was stuck in traffic).
Uttarakhand BJP chief Madan Kaushik told ThePrint that Rawat had “crossed all limits” of party decorum. “Harak Singh Rawat had taken the party for granted and had been engaging with the opposition leaders every now and then. The Chief Minister was always generous to him and accepted all his wishes, but he was trying to cross all the limits of party discipline. He was hobnobbing with the Congress every other day,” Kaushik said.
“He had been pressurising the central leadership for tickets to his family members, disregarding the BJP’s policies,” Kaushik added. Rawat had reportedly been lobbying for a party ticket for his daughter-in-law Anukriti Gusain, a former Miss India.
Senior Congress leaders also said that Harak Rawat had been connecting with the party leadership “non-stop” in Delhi and was having a meeting with the Congress party’s election campaign head Harish Rawat late Sunday night when the BJP announced his expulsion from the cabinet and party for six years.
Pritam Singh, Leader of Opposition in the Uttarakhand assembly, told ThePrint that Harak Rawat had been meeting with Congress leaders for several months, but that this had not necessarily been with a view to defect from the BJP.
“Congress party’s doors are open for all who want to defeat the BJP. However, the final decision as to his joining depends on AICC president Sonia Gandhi,” Singh said.
Reacting to his expulsion, Rawat said that he had always been loyal to the BJP and that the party had been swayed by rumours on social media. “I was always loyal to the party… but all that God does is for one’s good. Now I will join the Congress as it will form a government after elections. I will work for the Congress party even if I am not made a candidate,” Rawat told mediapersons in Delhi.
A long history of party-hopping
Harak Singh Rawat, who has a doctorate in military science and worked briefly as a reader at Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna University (HNBU) in Srinagar Garhwal, started his political career with the BJP in 1984.
He lost the first assembly election he contested but won in 1991 from Pauri assembly segment, which was then in undivided Uttar Pradesh. He was then inducted as the youngest cabinet minister in the BJP government led by the late Kalyan Singh.
In 1993, Rawat was re-elected in a mid-term poll after the Kalyan Singh government was dismissed in light of the Babri Mosque demolition. He joined the Janata Dal in 1996. Just a year later, he joined the BSP, but lost the 1998 election as the party’s candidate from Pauri.
Rawat subsequently joined the Congress in 1998 and remained with it for 18 years. Uttar Pradesh was bifurcated in 2000, leading to the formation of Uttarakhand, within which his constituencies have fallen.
Continuous winning streak in Uttarakhand
Harak Singh Rawat has had his share of ups and downs, and has been at the centre of several controversies, but he has never lost an assembly election in Uttarakhand.
In the first Uttarakhand assembly poll in 2002, he was elected from Lansdowne and became a minister in the N.D. Tiwari cabinet when the Congress formed the first government of the newly minted state.
In the 2007 assembly polls, Rawat won from Kotdwar assembly constituency. This time, the BJP formed the government and Rawat became the leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly.
Rawat won his third state election from Rudraprayag in 2012 and again became a cabinet minister in the Vijay Bahuguna-led Congress government. However, Bahuguna resigned as CM following severe criticism about his handling of the 2013 flood disaster, and was replaced by Harish Rawat in February 2014.
In 2016, Baguhuna and eight other MLAs — included Harak Singh Rawat — defected to the BJP, less than a year ahead of the 2017 assembly polls. Rawat fought this election on a BJP ticket from Kotdwar assembly seat, defeating the then sitting minister S.S. Negi.
A turbulent stint in the BJP
Harak Singh Rawat was inducted as forest minister in the BJP’s Trivendra Singh Rawat government in 2017 but is said to have never had a good equation with the chief minister, who was removed in 2021. While his relationship with the current CM, Pushkar Singh Dhami, seemed to be better, the minister was known for throwing “tantrums”, according to BJP leaders.
A month ago, he walked out of a cabinet meeting alleging that his demand for releasing funds for medical care in his constituency was not met. He remained underground for nearly 48 hours after that and threatened to resign but was eventually mollified by the CM. At that time too, speculation was rife that Rawat would return to the Congress.
Over the years, Rawat has been embroiled in several controversies although they did not seem to affect his performance at the hustings.
In 2003, Rawat was forced to resign from the N.D. Tiwari cabinet after a woman alleged that he had exploited her sexually and was the father of her newborn baby. Rawat later claimed a DNA test proved he wasn’t the child’s father, and the CBI gave him a clean chit in the matter.
In 2014, another scandal broke out when a woman from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh lodged an FIR at Safdarjung Police Station in Delhi against Harak Singh Rawat for alleged sexual exploitation. The woman later withdrew the complaint.
Rawat’s personal life has taken a controversial turn too, with his wife Deepti Rawat alleging that another woman, Sonia Anand Rawat, is also claiming to be married to him. ThePrint called Rawat for his comment on the matter but did not get a response.
Senior political analyst and former journalist Jai Singh Rawat told ThePrint that despite these controversies, Harak Singh Rawat is still seen as a winning prospect.
“Despite the scandals about women and his controversial political statements, he has never lost an election in Uttarakhand. He has won from whichever constituency he has contested from,” Jai Singh Rawat said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)