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Harish Rawat’s Congress conundrum: What choices does the Grand Old Party have in Uttarakhand if not Rawat

Harish Rawat&nbsp | &nbspPhoto Credit:&nbspPTI

The Congress’s woes with its leaders seem to be jumping from one state to another. While it was Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, Captain Amarinder Singh rocked the Punjab boat. Now senior leader and former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Harish Rawat dropped the bombshell on Wednesday that has sent the party into a tizzy.

Harish Rawat’s series of cryptic tweets in chaste Hindi that said he sometimes feels it is time for him “to rest” had strong undercurrents of his displeasure over the state of affairs in the party. He hoped for better tidings in the coming year and trusted “Bhagwan Kedarnath” to guide him.

“Power and position have let loose several crocodiles in the poll ocean. My hands and feet have been bound by those representatives on whose orders we have to swim. And the establishment, instead of extending its hands to help us out, either turns its face away or worse, plays an unfavourable role. Many a time it has occurred to me that enough is enough and it’s time for me to retire. However, a voice of conscience tells me to not be vulnerable and flee. So here I am, reeling under ambiguity. I hope the new year shows me the path ahead. I am sure that Lord Kedarnath will guide me.”

The timing of this outburst couldn’t have been a worse time for the Congress that has been trying to consolidate its strengths and wrest the power from the incumbent BJP. Rahul Gandhi was in Dehradun just a few days back to intensify the party’s election campaign in the poll-bound hill state.

However, it is this rally that seems to have been the tipping point that drove Rawat’s tweets. In a subsequent statement, Rawat’s advisor Surinder Aggarwal has said that the former CM’s posters were removed from Rahul Gandhi’s rally, indicating that it was a handiwork of Uttarakhand’s AICC-in-charge Devendra Yadav. The relationship between Rawat and Yadav have been strained for a while and the party cadres in the State feel that Yadav is being favoured over the former CM and getting his way. Further, Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh has also been at odds with Rawat over the committee and organisational issues. Amidst all of this, Rawat has been feeling sidelined for a while now. If one were to read between the lines of Rawat’s not-so-cryptic tweets, his words echo the sentiments.

However, it is not in the party’s interests to alienate a senior leader like Rawat at the cusp of the elections. Harish Rawat is a political heavyweight that Congress can firmly bank on in Uttarakhand. The strong leader has been leaving no stone unturned to return to power in the upcoming Assembly elections. Such is his hold that the BJP left nothing to chance when it came to campaigning in Haldwani in Kumaon — Rawat’s stronghold — and the PM himself addressed the rally while inaugurating a slew of projects earlier this month. Rawat has even built a campaign strategy that can upset the incumbent BJP’s balance. The campaign around ‘Uttarakhandityat’ is built around the three symbols of mandua, ganna aur shilp (millet, sugarcane and crafts) — the three mainstays of the State’s economy. He understands the State, people and its politics and was seen as a worthy choice to replace former CM Vijay Bahuguna who resigned in 2014 after the shoddy rehabilitation work for those affected in the devastating flash floods in 2013. Rawat is among the staunch loyalists of the Gandhi family and has proven himself to be a trusted lieutenant more than once.

Congress is also now wary after the way the situation in Punjab devolved and Captain Amarinder parted ways. The Grand Old Party is still reeling with the aftermath as CM Channi and PCC chief Sidhu are in constant friction with so semblance of stability for the part in the State. The party is taking no such chances in Uttarakhand. Devendra Yadav has been instructed by the Congress high command to defuse the tension. However, he has not been able to reach Yadav. The Congress is rightfully worried that BJP might make hay just as it did with Captain Amarinder Singh. And Singh lost no time in tweeting his response to Rawat with a not-very-kind “You reap what you sow! All the best for your future endeavours (if there are any) @harishrawatcmuk ji” on Wednesday evening.

For all that the Congress might kick and scream about the BJP poaching its leaders, the fact remains that a steady and strong leadership at the helm would have ensured that there was no such situation in the first place. As ever, it is the party that stands to lose the most by the in-fighting.

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