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