The 67 years old doyen of Uttarakhand politics Harish Rawat seems have one weird similarity with the Greek mythical king Tantalus, though Rawat had not committed any sinful act in his life!
An amicable and soft spoken person from the hills, he has come a long way, from being a village head of his native village Mohanari in Almora District to the post of Union Water Resources Minister. But the peculiar thing is that, despite being highly experienced and a politician with enviable mass base, a rarity in Uttarakhand politics, whenever getting the coveted post of the Chief Minister comes his way, he is left aside!
It’s happening since the beginning of this newly found State. He was one of the key supporters of Uttarakhand movement. He was the long standing President of State Congress Committee. But when the post of the Chief Minister was considered in the first Congress Ministry in Uttarakhand in 2002, Narayan Dutt Tiwary was the choice of the Congress Highcommand.
The BJP stalwart Bhagat Sigh Koshyari, whom Rawat had already defeated with a sizeable margin, became the second Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. Rawat was just a Rajya Sabha MP an in political hibernation since!
In 2012, when there were every possibility and a large MLA support base, Harish Rawat was denied the CM’s post. It again went to a Brahmin. Mumbai based and a novice in Uttarakhand politics, Vijay Bahuguna!
Harish almost became a fatalist! He was at the verge of ending his four decade old association with the Congress. He was convinced back later and he had to remain happy with his elevation to an independent Ministry, from the Minister of State position in the Centre.
Long Political Innings
Undoubtedly, there is no one in Uttarakhand Congress leadership today, who can match Rawat’s experience and public support base.
Born at a nondescript village Mohanari, near Chaunalia in Almora district, just four months before India’s independence, he became the head of the same village in 1972.
He was elevated to the post of Block Pramukh of Bhikiasain, the very next year. Though later he had to resign from this post due to a legal decision.
During the Emergency years, he became closer to the Ranikhet MLA and an influential Minister in the then UP Ministry, Govind Singh Mehra. Rawat became his confident, after he married Mehra’s daughter Renuka.
Rawat, the Lucknow University alumnus became the Almora District Youth Congress Chief in 1977.
Harish Rawat, till then, unfailingly a village persona, got his major political break, once Mehra introduced him to all pervasive Sanjay Gandhi. In the 1980 Lok Sabha election, surprisingly he got the most sought-after Congress ticket from Almora seat to fight against invincible Murli Manohar Joshi! Joshi was a sitting member from Bharatiya Lok Dal, a popular figure and later, one of the Trio of BJP’s top leadership.
Rawat got 1,08,503 votes. Joshi, the seasoned politician could manage only 49,848 votes!
There was no looking back for Rawat, thereafter.
In 1984 Polls also he defeated Murli Manohar Joshi from the same Lok Sabha seat.
Joshi never came back to contest from Almora again.
Drawback of the 90s
Harish Rawat belongs to the Rajput caste of Uttarakhand. Caste is a major factor in politics till date in Uttarakhand. It was then in undivided Uttar Pradesh.
The Ram temple movement was brewing up from an eastern UP town to entire Uttar Pradesh and later in the entire north India.
Rawat was considered someone holding the anti-Brahmin lobby. And Brahmins were always most powerful in Uttar Pradesh as well as in Uttarakhand politics. From Govind Ballabh Pant to Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna to Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Congress had them all.
To BJP’s Jeevan Sharma, a fresher, Rawat faced his first defeat.
The Hindutva movement which also incited the religiously prone Uttaranchal of Uttar Pradesh have seen the BJP wave thereafter. Bachi Sing Rawat from BJP, who later became State BJP President and Union Minister of State, Defence, got elected from the Almora seat thrice in succession.
In 2004 LS Election also, Bachi Singh Rawat defeated Harish’s wife Renuka from the same Almora seat.
From 1989 to 2009, Harish Rawat was not able got elected in Lok Sabha. Even his 2009 election was not from Almora.
When the Uttarakhand movement was as its peak in the 90s, Harish Rawat was very much in UP Politics. He was against the movement and the formation of a new State, in the beginning. But later he, like the Congress Highcommand, measured the public sentiment and became a staunch supporter of the Uttarakhand movement. He became the convenor of ‘Uttarakhand Sanjukkt Sangharsh Samity’ (Uttarakhand Joint Action Committee) and brought Congress into the mainstream movement.
After the formation of the State in the year 2000, when the first Assembly was created in 2002. Congress became the winner in Election. Narayan Dutt Tiwari became the first Congress Chief Minister of the State. And till date, he is the only Chief Minister who had completed the full term.
Rawat felt cheated, when despite being at the forefront of the movement he was denied the CM’s post. The octogenarian, three times UP Chief Minister Tiwari was chosen for the post.
In 2012, he was sidelined once again.
The Congress leadership has seen how the Rawat loyalists had gradually become more powerful in the State. They almost performed the role of the opposition of Bahuguna led Government in the State! Though Rawat was elevated to the post of an independent Minister to a minor Ministry in the post- 2012 scenario, the risk of political mutiny was always there.
The Himalayan Tsunami has now taken toll on the political career of Vijay Bahuguna. The post flash flood mismanagement and ineffectiveness of the Uttarakhand Government has made the Congress unpopular among the people of the State. The infighting has become rampant. Sometimes it’s between Harish Rawat with Bahuguna, sometimes its Harish Rawat vs. Satpal Maharaj, sometimes it’s the over ambition of Harak Singh Rawat, sometimes its else!
The Congress support base in the State is dwindling. The State Congress head Yashpal Arya had to resign from the post due to party infighting. The people of Kumaon region are feeling deprived in Political and Economic fields to Garhwal. BJP’s political graph is rising in Uttarkhand with its national prospect.
Congress is solely depending on the fragile support of three BSP MLAs and one Uttarakhand Kranti Dal MLA. BJP has 30 MLA’s in the Assembly and Congress has just 33.
For the last six months, since the Uttarkhand disaster and the leadership mismanagement thereafter, the central Congress leadership is holding regular meetings with the State MLA’s to find a middle path. But it was not that easy. The castes and regions are also the major factors.
Pritam Singh, Food and Civil Supplies Minister in the Bahuguna Cabinet, also a Harish loyalist seems somehow a middle path between two major camps. State Finance Minister Indira Hridayesh, from the Bahuguna camp and the seniormost member, staked her claim too. Like her, the names of the Brahmin leaders like Kishore Upadhyay, Nav Prabhat and Prakash Joshi are also being floated.
Harish Rawat might have many major and minor challengers in the State. But none of them has the same weightage and importance, as of Harish Rawat, right now.
By Deep Basu
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