After settling a feud between warring camps in its party unit in Punjab, the Congress central leadership has replicated the same model in poll-bound Uttarakhand. Party general secretary Harish Rawat has been given a bigger role with the new assignment of chairman of the election campaign committee. This means the septuagenarian leader will be the Congress’s de facto chief ministerial face. Rawat loyalist Ganesh Godiyal has been made the president of the state party unit, in an arrangement similar to Punjab. Besides, four other working presidents have been appointed.
The rejig was aimed at keeping a check on dissent, though some leaders are still raising their voices. Former state Congress president Kishore Upadhyay, a Garhwali Brahmin, is reportedly miffed at not getting the post again and has conveyed it to the party leadership. Former minister Navprabhat, another Brahmin from the Garhwal region, has refused to accept the position he has been offered. Navprabhat was in fray for the state unit chief’s job but instead was given the task to prepare the party manifesto for the coming elections.
There are several similarities between Punjab and Uttarakhand from the Congress perspective. Both states will go to polls early next year. Both states have ambitious leaders with their egos clashing quite often. Moreover, both states have one man in common – Harish Rawat, the leader from hills who in his job as Punjab incharge has been successful in breaking the ice between chief minister Amarinder Singh and new state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. In a bid to appease dissidents in the state wing, the Congress appointed four working presidents alongside Sidhu.
The same formula has been applied in Uttarakhand where outgoing state unit chief Pritam Singh has been appointed as leader of opposition – a post that was lying vacant after the death of Indira Hridayesh. After days of hectic lobbying in New Delhi, Rawat managed to get Garhwali Brahmin and industrialist Ganesh Godiyal as the new Congress unit chief. Moreover, among the four working presidents, Tilak Raj Behar and Jeet Ram are Rawat loyalists. Pritam Singh too, though, has got his share of the pie. Two of his associates, Ranjit Rawat and Bhuwan Kapri, have been made working presidents. Kapri hails from Khatima which is represented by chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Pushkar Dhami in the Uttarakhand assembly.
Looking at the caste and regional equations, among the ten leaders in the main team consisting of the state Congress president, working presidents and campaign committee, three are Brahmins, three Rajputs (including Rawat), two Dalits, one Baniya and one Punjabi.
In Uttarakhand Congress, Harish Rawat, Pritam Singh, Kishore Upadhyay and late Indira Hridayesh remained the four big faces after prominent leaders such as Satpal Maharaj, Harak Singh Rawat, Vijay Bahuguna and Yashpal Arya switched over to the BJP between 2014 and 2016. Among them, Kishore Upadhyay is not linked to any group while, until last month, Indira Hridayesh and Pritam Singh were riding on the same boat. The equations changed after the former’s death and this, observers say, perhaps came as a ‘much-awaited’ opportunity for Congress’s old warhorse Harish Rawat.
Now with the new team in place, efforts have been made to bring warring groups under one roof. Political observers feel the ruling BJP has a strong organisational network with young chief minister Pushkar Dhami at the helm. Despite this, the Congress has a chance to score in the poll match with its senior all-rounder Harish Rawat as captain. Much will depend, though, on whether or not the rest of the team cooperates.
“The Aam Aadmi Party is ready to snatch the space of the Congress in the state. Nevertheless, the BJP is not going to give up easily. The party has replaced its chief minister thrice with a single agenda to regain the trust of the voters. For the Congress, the elections are not going to be a cakewalk as on one side it will face BJP and AAP, and on another the shadowy backstabbers all around,” said Manmohan Bhatt, a Dehradun-based political observer.
In the 2017 assembly polls, the Congress failed to withstand a strong Modi wave and lost badly. The-then party poster boy Harish Rawat also lost from both the seats he contested.
This time, the Congress asserts that the situation is different. A senior party functionary, who has found a place in the rejig, says it’s a do-or-die battle for the Congress in the hill state.
“For our own survival we will have to contest elections as one team; else like other states, we will become history,” he said.