Uttarakhand Assembly Election 2017: BJP's win proves Harish Rawat must work his way to the top again
This time too, BJP has won the Gangorti seat while the loser Congress has managed to win from Ranikhet.
With the Assembly election results in Uttarakhand, the Chief Minister Harish Rawat has suffered the biggest setback of his political carreer. He has set the record for being the first chief minister to lose both of his constituencies in Kiccha and Haridwar (rural), and his close confidantes like Navprabhat, Durga Pal, Mantri Prasad Naithani and Dinesh Dhanai also stand defeated. Only one veteran leader, Indira Hridayesh succeeded in regaining the Haldwani seat with the lowest margin. On the other hand, twelve out of fourteen rebel Congress leaders who were supposed to have fallen from grace, have emerged victorious in the wake of unprecedented victory of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). No doubt, Uttarakhand is known for changing governments in each election and also there was an anti-incumbency factor at work, but no one had the inkling that Congress would face such a rout by managing just 11 out of 70 assembly seats. With this, Rawat faces a bleak future in the state politics.
Political analysts were almost unanimous in their assessment that it was the closest ever contest between the Congress and the BJP and the victory of either party will be decided by just a few seats. Even the poll exits done by the news channels, barring News 24-Chanakya, showed the BJP’s slight edge over Congress. Of course, BJP was much ahead in its resources and publicity campaigns, and unconfirmed sources say that it spent maximum money, including bribing the voters, in the run up to the elections. After the polling in Punjab and Goa on 5 February, all senior ministers of the Modi Govt and BJP’s ‘star’ campaigners camped in Uttarakhand for a week and Modi also held five big rallies across the state. Since it was tricky to cash in on the notebandi issue, they focused on the anti-incumbency factor, corruption and the way a number of Congress leaders had to leave the party owing to the high-handedness of Harish Rawat.
Needless to say, Rawat had to wage the fight almost single-handedly. There were no star campaigners around. Rahul Gandhi could hold only three rallies. And there was a lot of unrest among senior Congress leaders of the state over the way he allotted constituencies to them, hobnobbing with the independent candidates with a view to get support in the wake of a hung Assembly. Of course, Rawat did whirlwind kind rallies in the states, went from temple to temple, performed elaborate poojas at his residence but he failed to foresee the mood of the people. The group who left the party came to be known as ‘Non-Rawat Congress’ in opposition to the ‘Rawat Congress.’ Nevertheless, Rawat did not bother to deal with the void they left, followed by a big organisational disruption. Other main factors working against were his close connections with the liquor mafia in Uttarakhand and his almost blind reliance upon the ministers who were accused of corruption. There was virtually no wise person left in the party to guide him.
Had Harish Rawat adopted an all-inclusive and fairer political culture as an alternative to the BJP politics, and tried to persuade the dissatisfied in his party, or reached out to the progressive, if not radical forces in the state, he would have possibly gained a second term, for in his own words, "fulfilling the half-done task of development because of the short tenure available" to him.
All he could do was rely upon the eventual support from some of the independent candidates or forge friendship with the Samajwadi Party, ignoring the bitter fact that it was the party whose government had fired upon the agitators of the separate Hill State near Muzaffar Nagar. Rawat also became a victim of the high lumpenisation which has deeply seeped inside the entire state politics and fell into the trap laid by the BJP. A sting operation about a bribe offer to get the support in the Assembly done by one of his former aides showed that he was no different from the rival BJP which by hook and crook ‘snatched’ a number of leaders from the Congress. A CBI enquiry is still on against Rawat and if BJP sources are to be believed, he may face a harder time. With this debacle, the Congress also finds itself at the crossroads and will need a grassroots approach to rectify its mistakes.
The victory of the most of the candidates who rebelled against the Congress and later joined BJP signifies the advent of a ‘Non-Rawat Congress’ which will make it difficult for BJP to choose a chief minister who will be acceptable to the ex-rebels as well, given the fact that some of them are already aspiring for the post. Satpal Maharaj, Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat who left the Congress in 2014 or 2016 are strong contenders, who can pose a challenge to the candidates from BJP ranks.
Largely superstitious society of Uttarakhand has it about the power politics as well. It is believed that whichever party wins the Gangotri seat (earlier Uttarkashi) will come to the power and whichever wins the Ranikhet seat will not be able to form the government. This time too, BJP has won the Gangorti seat while the loser Congress has managed to win from Ranikhet.
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