As if the drubbing in the assembly elections was not enough, a revolt by 17 legislators over the appointment of the new Uttarakhand chief minister, Vijay Bahuguna, has added to the Congress’ woes.
The party plunged into turmoil in the hill state after the party’s central leadership preferred a relatively lightweight Bahuguna over the man who has been a driving force behind the Congress victory, union minister and Haridwar MP Harish Rawat.
This is the second time that the party high command has overlooked Rawat while choosing candidate for the top job in the state. Despite having been instrumental in bringing the party to power in 2002 as its state chief, the high command then chose veteran ND Tiwari over him.
One of the options being considered by the rebel legislators — some counted 19 — is to split the Congress and form a regional party under Harish Rawat’s leadership. But according to the anti-defection law, elected on a party symbol, rebels must have at least two-thirds of the total number of legislators to form a separate block or a party.
A visibly hurt Rawat, however, ruled out any such move. “I am a Congressman, through and through,” he declared.
The dissidents, including two Parliament members and former legislative party leader Harak Singh Rawat, are confident that the BJP -- with which some of them have opened channels of communication – will support them in government formation. But the BJP seems to have decided to wait for their next move before taking a call.
Harak Singh, himself front-runner for the CM’s post, has already sounded alarm bells for the new government. “It can last for 10-15 days only.”
The Congress is now trying to pacify Harish Rawat who is reported to have resigned from the union ministry. But sources said it would be very difficult for him to step back now, indicating that even a cabinet berth would not mollify him.
“It’s a do or die situation for him….if he fails to act now, his politics will be finished,” said a close confidant.
The 17 legislators, who have been camping in Delhi since Monday, skipped Bahuguna’s swearing-in ceremony in Dehradun on Tuesday in a clear signal that they were not ready to accept him as chief minister. Only 11 of the 32 Congress MLAs were present.
As a way out, the dissidents want Harish Rawat to be made CM if the party wants an MP to be elevated to the post or Harak Singh Rawat if the choice is from legislators.