TUR­MOIL IN UT­TARAK­HAND: THE INSIDE STORY Seeds Sown About 2 Yrs Back to Top­ple Har­ish Rawat Govt

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics - A TURN­ING POINT

Dehradun: The seeds for dis­lodg­ing the Har­ish Rawat-led Congress gov­ern­ment in Ut­tarak­hand were prob­a­bly sown more than two years ago.

It was back in Novem­ber 2014 that for mer chief min­is­ter Vi­jay Bahuguna re­alised that his in­flu­ence within the Congress party was wan­ing.That’swhenRawat­gotManorama Sharma Do­briyal, for­mer mayor of Dehradun, de­clared as the party’s nom­i­neefortheRa­jyaSab­haseat­from thes­tate,ig­nor­ingBahugu­nawhowas said to be in the race. How­ever, there was­more­to­come.

Af­ter Do­briyal died a few months later, the Congress sent se­nior leader and ac­tor Raj Bab­bar to the Up­per Hous e o f p a rl i a ment from Ut­tarak­hand, another blow for Bahuguna. Rawathadas­sumed­power in Fe­bru­ary 2014, tak­ing over from Bahugu­nawhowas­droppedafterthe dev­as­tat­ing 2013 flash floods in the state. The mes­sage was clear: Bahuguna and his sup­port­ers had been side­lined.

If that wasn’t enough, Rawat sprang another sur­prise by field­ing Harak Singh Rawat from the Pauri seat to con­test against BJP stal­wart and for­mer chief min­is­ter BC Khan­duri. “Per­haps, Rawat was aware about Harak’s po­ten­tial to dam­age him. So he en­sured a Lok Sabha ticket for him in or­der to keep him in good hu­mour,” a source re­called. Lit­tle did Rawat know that the move would back­fire on him.

In Jan­uary this year, leg­is­la­tors in the Bahuguna camp started wor­ry­ing about their po­lit­i­cal prospects with the assem­bly elec­tions due in 2017. They had watched silently as Bahuguna lost his bar­gain­ing po­si­tion in the Congress, un­able to get them ac­com­mo­dated in ei­ther the gov­ern­ment or the party or­gan­i­sa­tion. By then, Rawat had emerged as the only face of the Congress party in the state and the Rawat-Bahuguna ri­valry had al­most faded from pub­lic mem­ory.There­wa­son­ly­onecon­so­la­tion for the Bahuguna camp: then min­is­ter Harak Singh Rawat had se­cretly joined them a few months ear­lier, ap­par­ently un­happy with the chief min­is­ter­be­cause­he­didn’tgeta good min­istry. He also re­port­edly wanted to change his seat to con­test the assem­bly polls.

Harak’s switchover was a cru­cial turn­ing point for the rebels. He was con­sid­ered to be ca­pa­ble of bring­ing in more MLAs to the Bahuguna camp. By Septem­ber, he had be­come a fre­quent vis­i­tor to the houses of the Bahuguna camp MLAs.

“We started host­ing din­ner par­ties for the MLAs of our camp fre­quently since Oc­to­ber last year. This helped us as­sess our strength,” a Bahuguna loy­al­ist told ET, on con­di­tion of anonymity. “Ini­tially, we found that at least­12MLAswer­ereg­u­lar­i­nat­tend­ing the par­ties. All MLAs who were an­noyed with the style of func­tion­ing of the Har­ish Rawat gov­ern­ment hosted such din­ner par­ties. We were fully con­vinced that our num­ber had swelled to two dig­its by De­cem­ber.” Even so, the num­bers weren’t enough. Ac­cord­ing to him, their plan to bring down the gov­ern­ment in the bud­get ses­sion in March would not have been pos­si­ble with­out sup­port fromthe­main­op­po­si­tionBJP,which had 28 mem­bers in the 71-seat assem­bly. “So, the next task was to talk to the top lead­er­ship of BJP in New Delhi and we started ex­plor­ing our solid links to con­nect us with the BJP’s top lead­ers,” he said, re­veal­ing the start of “op­er­a­tion top­pling of Congress-headed Ut­tarak­hand gov­ern­ment.” Good news for them came in the sec­ond week of Jan­uary. “We had ap­proached a se­nior union min­is­ter to con­vince the BJP lead­er­ship about our good strength in the pres­ence of then min­is­ter Harak Singh Rawat in our camp. We met him in NewDel­hi­and­share­dour­plan­touse the com­ing ses­sion of state assem­bly toteacha­lesson­toCMHar­ishRawat, even at the cost of los­ing our mem­ber­ship,” another source said. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the Bahuguna cam­p­was­in­touch­with­le­gal­ex­perts. “Bahuguna- ji is a re­tired judge of the high court and thus he was aware about the con­se­quences which we were sup­posed to face af­ter bring­ing down the state gov­ern­ment. So we were ready to face dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion,” saidtheMLA,as­taunch­sup­port­erof Bahuguna. By the end of third week of Jan­uary, the Bahuguna camp had in­formed the BJP lead­er­ship about the fi­nal plan to re­volt against the Rawat gov­ern­ment dur­ing the bud­get ses­sion start­ing March 9. “We hoped that our num­ber would be not less than 15,” another MLA said.

Two weeks be­fore the bud­get ses­sion,theCon­gress­rebel­sap­proached Am­ri­taRawat,thewifeof se­niorBJP leader Sat­pal Ma­haraj. Am­rita Rawat had been dropped from the cab­i­net by the chief min­is­ter in 2014, af­ter the Congress lost all five seats in Ut­tarak­hand. “Since her hus­band Ma­haraj had al­ready joined the BJP, she was per­haps look­ing for a suit­abler­oute­to­get­dis­as­so­ci­at­ed­fromthe Congress. Thus, we were sure about her con­sent to join our camp,” one of the rebel MLAs said.

The Bahuguna fac­tion’s plan was now in place. BJP na­tional gen­eral sec­re­tary Kailash Vi­jay­vargiya, who had started camp­ing in Dehradun, had held talks with the BJP leg­is­la­tors a day be­fore the drama un­folded in the state assem­bly.

Why­didBahugu­naand­hissup­port­ers wait un­til the bud­get ses­sion to bring down the Rawat gov­ern­ment? The dis­grun­tled Congress mem­bers were­con­vincedthatit­wasthe­lastop­por­tu­nity for them to sur­vive in the given po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. “The win­ter ses­sion of the state assem­bly would be a for­mal­ity in view of the com­ing assem­bly elec­tions in early 2017… Our cal­cu­la­tion was that it might give us enough time to plan for con­test­ing the com­ing assem­bly,” said another rebel Congress mem­ber.

The dis­si­dent group faced a set­back with the num­ber of rebel mem­bers only nine as three MLAs ditched them in the last hour. “Ex­cept se­nior BJP leader Sat­pal’s wife, no MLA from his group could join them,” one mem­ber of the rebel camp pointed out. The rebel mem­bers are now in a “wai­t­and­watch”mode.CMRawatis in no mood to com­pro­mise, ei­ther. By tour­ing Si­tar­ganj assem­bly seat, whichBahugunarep­re­sented,Rawat has sig­nalled that the chap­ter for the Congress rebels has been closed.

The rebels, who were dis­qual­i­fied from the assem­bly, aren’t wor­ried. They seem to be con­tent in the knowl­edge that they have good re­la­tions with the BJP. They have been given se­cu­rity by the Cen­tre, which the rebels un­der­stand to mean that they still mat­ter in the state’s politics.

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