Lok Sabha elections 2019: Testing time for former Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat amid internal strife
Known for a sting operation and fiery working style, Harish Rawat is the poster boy of the Congress party in Uttarakhand.
The former chief minister of the hill state is a five-time member of Parliament and was the minister of water resources in the cabinet of Manmohan Singh during 2012-2014.
Rawat was a member of the Indian Youth Congress and his career took off when he defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) veteran leader Murli Manohar Joshi from the Almora constituency in 1980 during seventh Lok Sabha election. He then went on to win the eighth and ninth Lok Sabha polls as well.
He became the president of the party’s state unit in 2000 when Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh and in 2002, he was elected as the Rajya Sabha member. He contested the 2009 general election but left his traditional seat of Almora, after it was reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes, to contest from the Haridwar constituency. He defeated the BJP’s Swami Yatishwaranand Giri by more than 300,000 votes.
Rawat became the chief minister in 2014 when his party colleague Vijay Bahuguna resigned over allegations of mishandling of the floods that hit the state in June 2013 and various other irregularities related to funds. The 69-year-old Rawat won the by-election from Dharchula seat next year.
Rawat’s government was hit by a major roadblock when in 2016 nine of Congress legislators rebelled against him. President’s rule was enforced in the state on March 27, 2016, amid the crisis. All the rebel Congress leaders joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) adding to the party’s problems.
Rawat lost the assembly election from two seats Haridwar Rural and Kicchha in 2017. The Congress was left with only 11 seats of 70 under his leadership and the BJP won 57.
Rawat’s tenure is also known for a video in a sting operation in which he is purportedly seen making a deal with a journalist to lure dissident Congress legislators back into the party. Later, he admitted that he featured in the video.
Despite his loss from two seats during the 2017 assembly election, the Congress party has reposed its faith on Rawat by fielding him from the from Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar constituency. He is up against the BJP’s state unit chief Ajay Bhatt.
Harish Rawat was vying for a ticket from both Haridwar and Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar seats but later settled for the latter.
“I opted for Nainital seat because I wasn’t sure if I could work tirelessly in the Haridwar parliamentary constituency as I did in the 2009 general elections owing to my old age,” he reasoned.
The leader of opposition Indira Hriyadesh was also pitching Mahendra Singh Pal from Nainital constituency. Differences between both the senior party leaders - Rawat and Hriyadesh - grew so much on the issue that hours before the Congress announced its list on Saturday, eight Congress legislators reached Delhi in support of the former chief minister.
Congress eventually fielded Ambrish Kumar, a senior party leader, from Haridwar seat.