After a two-month-long battle that saw him crossing swords with Union leaders as well as detractors in his own party, Harish Rawat has re-emerged as the Uttarakhand chief minister and the undisputed leader of the Congress’ state unit.
Rawat has become the party’s most visible face in the hill state after the ordeal, and that’s expected to work in the party’s favour when one considers the fact that its main rival – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – enjoys no such advantage.
However, riding on a wafer-thin majority after the trust vote, it will not be easy for the reinstated chief minister to steer the government the way he used to before March 18. In the changed circumstances, he will face more pressure from those within the party as well as the Opposition in the coming months. Consequently, political observers do not rule out the possibility of Rawat calling for early elections.
After Rawat took the chief minister’s mantle from Vijay Bahuguna in early 2014, it soon became clear that he intended to lead the party as a one-man army. However, he faced the repercussions of this strategy when nine legislators revolted to side with the BJP in March.
Though Rawat seems to have quelled all dissent for the time being, the revolt could deliver a nasty after-shock in the months to come. The chief minister, who belongs to Kumaon, has faced allegations of ignoring the state’s Garhwal region.
Seven of the nine Congress rebels, including ‘main conspirators’ Harak Singh and Vijay Bahuguna, belong to Garhwal. Given the circumstances, Rawat may find it hard to maintain his hold on this region, which – incidentally – provided the party with 18 of the 31 seats it won in the 2012 assembly polls.
“It’s as much a question of survival for three rebel leaders – Satpal Maharaj, Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh – as it is for Rawat. They have a sizeable voter base, and will make every attempt to prevent Rawat from emerging victorious,” says political observer Prayag Pande.
Rawat’s image also took a blow after the CBI booked him for a sting video that allegedly showed him giving out bribes. The Opposition, for its part, is expected to capitalise on the issue. “Our workers will keep a close eye on the Rawat government because we know they are involved in corrupt practices,” said BJP president Ajay Bhatt.
The strain from keeping 32 MLAs (26 in-house and six from supporting parties) happy is likely to start showing on Rawat, and he will have to chalk out a solid strategy for winning 36 seats – the number required to form the government – in the upcoming assembly polls.
Rawat has enjoyed quite an inspiring rise in the Congress, graduating from village head to chief minister in the course of five decades. However, the party leader’s success came at a price – he is said to have more foes than friends in state politics today.
The Congress strongman won his first parliamentary election in the 80s, but capitulated when the Ram temple wave swept the nation a decade later. He later lost three parliamentary elections back to back, languishing in political oblivion for almost two decades until he finally won from Haridwar in 2009. In 2002 and 2012, he lost two chances to become the chief minister.
However, the Congress believes that the fighter in Rawat is capable of steering the party to success. “Rawatji knows politics better than anybody else. He has the charisma to turn the tide in his favour,” said Jot Singh Bisht, Congress vice-president.