Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat is up against a two-pronged revolt, again. This time from his six-member ally as well an influential minister over the hill state’s lone Rajya Sabha seat for which elections are due on June 11.
The relationship between the ruling Congress and its alliance partner, the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF), reached a flashpoint after the two allies declared separate candidates for the Rajya Sabha seat.
The PDF announced its key leader and cabinet minister Dinesh Dhanai for the Upper House of Parliament after a marathon meeting on Saturday night.
The announcement came hours after the Congress named former parliamentarian and known Rawat loyalist Pradeep Tamta as its candidate.
PDF leaders said the Congress’s moves have “shocked” them. They alleged that the party didn’t bother to take them into confidence about its decision. “As a result, there is tremendous resentment among us against the Congress,” said PDF chairman and cabinet minister Mantri Prasad Naithani.
Besides upsetting its partner, which stood by Rawat in a Supreme Court-monitored trust vote on May 10 that ended nearly two months of President’s rule in the hill state, the Congress’s strategy didn’t go down well with its senior minister Yashpal Arya too.
Arya has raised a banner of revolt against Rawat, a throwback to the March rebellion of nine Congress lawmakers against the chief minister. The March mutiny prompted the Centre to bring the state under President’s rule on March 27.
Arya, a former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief, has threatened to resign from the cabinet and the party if the decision to nominate Tamta is not revoked.
Tamta, a former Lok Sabha MP for Almora, was part of a group that revolted against the Congress leadership for naming Vijay Bahuguna as the chief minister after the party’s victory in the 2012 assembly elections. Rawat replaced Bahuguna in 2014 after an intense intra-party battle. For his part, Bahuguna led the March revolt against Rawat.
A Congress leader in Uttarakhand said Tamta was earlier “extremely critical” of party chief Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for “ignoring” Rawat.
“Rawat’s decision to name Tamta shows his high-handedness in dealing with other senior leaders,” he said. “Barring Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat, the other seven legislators left Congress only because of the CM’s autocratic style.”
Rawat’s style came under criticism from ally PDF too. “The way the Congress ignored us was also a direct affront to our self-respect,” a peeved Naithani said.
Dhanai, the PDF’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat, called the Congress move a self-destructive step. “You are ruling the state because of our support … We asked for just one seat and you started feeling the pinch,” he said.
The Congress is four MLAs short of a wafer-thin majority and is running its government with the support of the PDF.
The opposition BJP has sniffed an opportunity to drive a wedge between the ruling partners, saying it is willing to support the PDF. “We are ready to support the PDF candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat … If they (PDF) want to support our candidate we are also ready to take their support,” state BJP president Ajay Bhatt said.
The BJP has 27 MLAs and can win the Rajya Sabha seat only if the PDF backs the party.
“The Congress has badly treated the PDF despite the fact that it helped the party form its government and helped win the trust vote as well,” Bhatt said. “Contesting the Rajya Sabha election will rid the PDF of the stigma of being reduced to a pawn of the Congress.”
PDF chairman Naithani denied the possibility of accepting the BJP’s support.
(With inputs from HTC New Delhi)