Uttarakhand Election Result 2017: Can Harish Rawat, Congress revive themselves from ruins of defeat?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has swept Uttarakhand in a landslide victory, winning 57 out of 70 seats in the hill state. The incumbent Congress party was not only taught a stern lesson but the defeat has even raised questions about its existence. Chief Minister Harish Rawat contested polls from two separate constituencies — Kichcha and Haridwar Rural — but lost both.

He submitted his resignation to governor KK Paul, and has asked to remain in office till the new government take take oath of office.

Harish Rawat at a rally in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy: Twitter/@HarishRawatCMUK

Harish Rawat at a rally in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy: Twitter/@HarishRawatCMUK

State Congress president Kishore Upadhyay also couldn't save his seat. Moreover, the party also lost 10 prominent leaders last year, when they, along with former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, defected to the BJP. Most of the 10 have won the elections from a BJP ticket, and it's quite clear that had they stayed back, things could have been different.

Uttarakhand has a strong anti-incumbency trend — no party has ever managed to retain power in the state's 16-year history. However, though Congress and BJP have always alternated power in the hill state, the margin of victory or defeat has never been this large. BJP has not only won the state elections, it has decimated Congress and left a state Assembly with no room for an effective Opposition.

Like it happened after the Lok Sabha election in 2014, the BJP's margin of victory will make it difficult for Congress to even choose a credible leader who can leader of Opposition. It's becoming obvious the Congress has completely lost the ability to connect with the voters.

It got a shot in the arm last summer, when the Supreme Court upheld Harish Rawat's claims of becoming chief minister in the face of the Bahuguna-led rebellion. The rebels were dealt a defeat, and Rawat had enough time to consolidate his gains. He could have also garnered sympathy votes from the hills, as they saw him as a victim of the politicking.

But the internal strife in the party and a tussle between the incumbent chief minister and the state party president cost the Congress, as did Rawat's self-obsession. He tried to overplay the victim card, but didn't do enough to convince voters that his government would act in the best interests of the state. And instead of focussing on development of his state, he continued playing divisive politics, pitting Brahmins against Rajputs, Kumaon against Garhwal, the hills versus the plains.

These election results raise a big question mark over the kind of politics Rawat has been trying to promote in the state. It raises a question on his political future as well. Moreover, given the CBI is probing his involvement in a scam following a sting operation, his survival may become much tougher.

For the first few months, Congress would have to work harder to overcome the massive electoral setback. In the absence of Rawat and Kishore Upadhyay, Indira Hridayesh would be the senior-most minister in the state, and may try to take control of the party. Whoever it is who takes charge of the party, it will be a marathon task for him/her to revive it from such an overwhelming defeat.

The future of the party also depends how the BJP performs once it does form a government. Whether it can project itself as a strong Opposition, and whether it can overcome the internal infighting and caste and regional divide that plague it currently will define the future of the party in the state.

Expectations are high from the BJP, and it's up to the Congress to be a strong and effective opposition, to ensure the government and democracy at large remain accountable.

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Updated Date: Mar 12, 2017 20:16:40 IST

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