Uttarakhand Congress Leaders In Tug-Of-War
Ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections due in Uttarakhand early next year the Congress appears to be in a state of complete paralysis. The problem has its roots in most of its top-rung leaders being at loggerheads with one another with almost all of them harbouring the chief ministerial ambition, cocksure (perhaps fondly) that the main opposition party would bounce back to power. In sharp contrast, however, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be functioning as a cohesive unit, its poll preparations is now in “full swing”.
The Congress, in fact, is facing a double whammy ahead of elections. For one, it has been left badly crippled owing to its own top-rung leaders’ clashing ambitions. Each of them desperate to hit the same goalpost (read the chief ministerial berth) has had the Congress bedeviled by fierce factionalism at a time when the polls are round the corner. Besides, the Congress-led UPA government facing corruption charges relating to the various multibillion scams is another major factor restricting its state unit from getting into election mode.
Buffeted by both the issues—the UPA government facing corruption charges and the leaders of the Congress’ state unit busy fanning factionalism to realise their chief ministerial ambitions—the opposition Congress finds it difficult to take on the “buoyant” BJP ahead of the forthcoming elections. Corruption, in fact, is one issue, which could have given the state Congress the edge over the ruling BJP ahead of elections with the Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank-led BJP government in Uttarakhand facing the various corruption charges. But the state’s main opposition party finds its hands tied on that issue, thanks to a number of financial scams worth multi-billion rupees like those relating to the 2G spectrum and Commonwealth Games repeatedly tumbling down from the closet of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. Significantly, the problem appears to be far too overwhelming for the state Congress leaders to be able to sidetrack it. And they openly admit that with the Centre facing corruption charges, the Congress has been divested of its moral authority to take on the ruling BJP on the issue of corruption.
“I agree, that (allegations of corruption in the UPA government) is hurting us”, state Congress president Yashpal Arya admits rather candidly, suggesting that the party’s state unit is finding it difficult to make “corruption in the state BJP government” its main poll plank ahead of elections. He, however, goes on to defend the Centre, pointing out that the latter has taken action against all those responsible for corruption. Arya nonetheless maintains that the state Congress will soon launch a “massive statewide campaign against the Nishak government for its involvement in a number of financial scams”.
Significantly, the Centre facing corruption charges is not the only issue that has pushed the state Congress on the back-foot. Also coming in the way of its poll preparations is factionalism within the opposition party being fanned by its own top-rung leaders. The problem has its roots in the conflicting ambitions of the opposition party’s top five leaders, incidentally all of them eyeing the post of chief minister, assuming that it (Congress) is sure to win the next assembly election. These five leaders are namely state Congress president Yashpal Arya, the former state Congress president and currently a central minister, Harish Rawat, the former minister in the erstwhile Congress government, Indira Hridyesh, the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, Harak Singh Rawat and the MPs from Tehri and Pauri Vijay Bahuguna and Satpal Maharaj respectively. And this problem of so many leaders dying to lead the party with an eye on the top slot (chief minister’s post) appears to have left the party orphaned ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections. A glaring example of the state Congress having been rendered rudderless is its top executive body—the Pradesh Congress Committee, which has not been reconstituted for the past nearly two years, i.e. since Arya was reelected as its president. “The PCC couldn’t be reconstituted because the leaders of our party have been pressurising us to enlist their supporters as its members. That, however, is not possible because we are under pressure from the high command to keep the size of the PCC small”, says the PCC president Yashpal Arya indirectly admitting that the top five leaders fighting among themselves for their supremacy in the PCC had left the opposition party in a shambles.
No wonder, those big five of the state Congress keep indulging in petty fights. For instance, Bahuguna and Maharaj. The “strong sense of animus” they harbour against each other is now an open secret. And if party insiders are to be believed, they have made a spectacle of themselves on couple of occasions by publicly indulging in spats while hurling choices abuses at each other. “On one occasion, in fact, when they were having heated exchange over some issue at a party function, Bahuguna, a retired Allahabad high court judge, suddenly lost his cool and hurled his shoe targeting Maharaj,” said a Congress leader, requesting anonymity. According to him, the same goes for Indira Hridyesh and Harish Rawat, the long-time political rivals. However, of late, they are stated to have joined forces against Arya, now their “common enemy”. Arya, a scheduled caste leader from Kumaon and a well-known protégé of the Congress veteran and former chief minister of Uttarakhand ND Tiwari, became “anathema” to the twin friends-turned-foes (Hridyesh and Rawat) for two different reasons. Hridyesh has been upset with Arya after Tiwari had him (Arya) elevated to the post of PCC president—a post she thought would go to her in view of her long-time association with the Congress veteran (Tiwari). Rawat who rather strongly harbours chief ministerial ambition, having been denied the opportunity in 2002 when “Congress president Sonia Gandhi chose Tiwari over him (who was also the then state party chief) for the post of chief minister despite the influential Thakur leader (Rawat) having successfully led the party to victory in the 2002 assembly elections. “But even this truce between the two— Hridyesh and Rawat—may well turn out to be a temporary as both Hridyesh and Rawat are also harbouring chief ministerial ambition”, said a Congress insider, while describing another Rawat (referring to the Leader of Opposition in the state assembly), an influential Thakur leader from Garhwal, as “an equally strong contender for the post of chief minister”.
No wonder, factions in the state Congress are pulling in different directions with their warring leaders busy ‘shining’ their own leadership. As a result, even in this election year so far, the opposition party has not been able to organise even a single statewide programme in Uttarakhand to protest the policies being pursued by the ruling BJP. The Congress leaders though organise their separate protest demonstrations with their rivals discreetly avoiding such programmes. Arya (state Congress president), for instance, avoided participating in the Janakrosh rallies (protest demonstrations) recently organised by Rawat (Leader of Opposition) in Garhwal and Kumaon to protest the BJP government’s policies. Similar thing was witnessed during the Congress MLA from Tehri, Kishore Upadhyay’s 14-day Satyagrih Upvas that he organised in the state assembly during its summer session. “The purpose of the demo was to highlight the lack of development in my constituency owing to the Nishank government’s step-motherly treatment”, said Upadhyay regretting that nobody in his own party (Congress) supported him on that issue—neither “my party nor my fellow party MLAs”. “I also suggested that the Congress leadership should organise similar protest demonstrations throughout Uttarakhand highlighting the issue of lack of development because that happens to be a statewide problem,” points out the senior Congress leader and All India Congress Committee (AICC) member Upadhyaya saying wryly that none of his party leaders responded to the idea.
Significantly, unlike the BJP, Congress’ central leadership too doesn’t seem interested in lifting the sagging morale of the party’s state unit ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections. Maybe because it is not a priority state for them owing to Uttarakhand being a tiny state that sends just five MPs in the Lok Sabha. But not many in the state Congress buy that theory. “Our central leaders would definitely visit Uttarakhand provided our state leaders have time to invite them,” says a senior state Congress leader requesting anonymity. “Much of their time,” he quips, “goes into either shining their own leadership or fanning factionalism within the party.”
By M Mukundan from Dehradun