The Congress has left the leadership question in Uttarakhand wide open. After ND Tiwari, chief minister, expressed his unwilling to contest the February 21 assembly election, the AICC, in its own unique style of providing a level playing field, did not include in its list of 65 contestants the names of Harish Rawat, state unit chief and Tiwari’s bete noire, and Satpal Maharaj, another claimant for the CM’s post. The trio are expected to lead the electoral campaign in the hill state.
But if the Congress wins the February 21 polls for the 70-member assembly, it may face a replay of the 2002 scenario. At that time, Rawat, who is now a Rajya Sabha member, had led the party to victory. But he was pipped to the CM’s post when Tiwari used his age, experience and credentials as former union minister and UP chief minister to lay claim to it.
This time, Tiwari may want to play a role in choosing his successor even though for the last 15 months in the run up to the polls, he himself was a reluctant CM. He repeatedly petitioned the Congress high command to relieve him. During this period, the octogenarian leader seemed to fluctuate in his desire for a gubernatorial assignment in Maharashtra, a berth in the Manmohan Singh cabinet and even a place in the Rajya Sabha as a step perhaps towards becoming a vice presidential or presidential nominee. Meanwhile, the factionalism in the state unit continued to fester.
At Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s behest, Tiwari and Rawat, in particular, put their differences aside to project a show of unity in trying to secure a second term for the party on the plank of development. But it is an open question whether the ground level supporters of these leaders would patch up too.
The Congress had 36 MLAs in the outgoing assembly. Though the party faces incumbency, it decided to renominate all its sitting legislators - barring Tiwari who did not want to contest and GS Rajhar - to contain further dissensions in the faction-ridden state.
Accordingly, all the ministers find a place in the list for the February 21 election. They include Indra Hirdesh (Haldwani), Preetam Singh (Chakrata-ST), Nav Bharat (Vikasnagar), Lt Gen TPS Rawat (Dhumakot), Narendra S Bhandari (Pauri) and Tilak Raj Behar (Rudrapur-Kichha).
Speaker Yashpal Arya will contest from his Mukteshwar constituency. Tiwari’s replacement in Ramnagar Yogambar Singh Rawat was elected from this segment in 2002. He later vacated the seat for Tiwari when the latter became chief minister. The list also includes Satpal Maharaj’s wife Anita who will test her luck in Bironkhai.
Besides the five seats, which are held by non-Congress parties, the party has not yet announced its candidate for the Tehri Lok Sabha seat that fell vacant with the death of the BJP’s Manvendra Shah.