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Rising like a phoenix

india Updated: Aug 07, 2009 00:22 IST
Hindustan Times
Rising like a phoenix

Harish Rawat often saw Raj Narain, Indira Gandhi’s political rival, pop in four eggs after a sumptuous meal: “A digestive” the socialist leader would chuckle while convicts massaged his body. Rawat, arrested for anti-government agitations, was in the cell next to him. Seeing Raj Narain gulp fists-full of dry fruits and gallons of milk, Rawat wondered: “Will this brand of socialists chisel our


Harish Rawat(61) Minister for state Labour and Employment
Aim: to look after mother and brothers
Inspiration: Communist leader Sushil Kumar Niranjan,
Mrs Indira Gandhi
Fear factor: Stutter before party leaders
Our take: Simple fellow with a long political innings


Had it not been for bank nationalisation or abolition of privy purses, Rawat may have ended up as a Communist. In hostel, his roommate fled when he saw Rawat clutch Mao Tse-tung’s book of quotations, popularly known as Little Red book.

Published in the sixties, it was a must-have for every Chinese. Rawat read every word. But a chance invitation to see Indira Gandhi address students changed it all.

Despite stiff opposition from the then government, she addressed several hundred of students. Till then, Rawat had panic attacks. He was among those who had invited her but was unsure whether the “lean, five feet something would actually pull
it off”. Later, a besotted Rawat spoke of her as “a cool breeze” in Parliament. A breath of fresh air as it were.

Sycophancy notwithstanding, Rawat was part of the Sanjay Gandhi brigade: “a bullet point leader” says Rawat about Sanjay. What he meant was that Sanjay was precise and to the point.

Victim of a slander campaign Rawat missed two opportunities: the first to be an MLA and the second to part of the Union Cabinet. In 1977, his name was in the running to contest the assembly election but a namesake did him in.

Another Harish Chandra Rawat had quit the party. The leadership thought it was him and struck off his name. Some two years ago, he went missing when tipped to be a Central minister. Ostensibly “out of reach”, Rawat did not show up because the induction would have aborted his dream of being Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister. For someone who had contested half-a-dozen elections and won three in a row, the desire was not misplaced. It is another matter that he was trounced four times.

When Rawat was removed as party chief in Uttarakhand, he decided to call it a day. One reason was that he wanted to spend time with his ailing wife and the other that he had reached a dead end. Post de-limitation, his home turf, Almora, had been declared reserved, and the state was under BJP rule and the Congress a successor in place. Add to that, allegations of money changing hands. Isolated, Rawat announced a political sabbatical till 2010.

But in 2009 he rose like the phoenix. He contested the elections from an untested constituency, Hardwar, won by an impressive margin and made it to the Union Cabinet as the state’s lone representative.