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Harish Rawat In, Vijay Bahuguna Out

Updated: February 22, 2014 5:11 pm

The ongoing turbulent political situation in Uttarakhand finally received some respite as senior Congress leader Harish Rawat was sworn-in as the eighth Chief Minister of the state, replacing Vijay Bahuguna, who had received a lot of flak for shoddy re-development work post the June disaster in the state.

Born to a Rajput family in Mohanari village near Chaunalia in the Almora district on April 27, 1947, Rawat, after being denied the coveted seat twice during 2002 and 2012, finally saw his dream come true. While the change of guard by the party high command just few months before the Lok Sabha elections, is being seen, as party’s move to strengthen its position in the state ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, whether the strong Thakur leader would be able to deliver goods is a question of time.

The 66-year old Rawat, known for his charm and ability to take people friendly decisions as compared to his successor Bahuguna whose decisions were widely dominated by the bureaucracy, is expected to bring a positive change in the brimming political situation along with speeding up the development work to resurrect the disaster-hit state.

The first Congress president of Uttarakhand after it was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, Harish Rawat is perhaps the only leader from Uttarakhand Congress that has a strong following in almost every nook and cranny of the state. Known to have a good rapport and close alliance with even the grassroots party workers and leaders of party, Harish Rawat is bent upon breaking the camps within his party and bring together everyone to face the Herculean Lok Sabha elections.

Harish Rawat, who always contested from the Almohra constituency till it was declared reserved, emerged as the most-favoured Congress leader of state, when for the first time, in 2009, he contested from the Haridwar Lok Sabha seat and emerged winner by a margin of more than one lakh votes. It was also Congress party’s first win in 25 years from the Haridwar seat.

As a first step towards fulfillment of task entrusted upon him by the party high command, Harish Rawat has extended an olive branch to his political rivals within the party, senior congress leader Satpal Maharaj from Pauri Garhwal and state Congress president Yashpal Arya. While the latter has already shown his faith in Harish Rawat, it is just a matter of time before Satpal Maharaj will warm up too. Though there was a minor opposition to his election as the Chief Minister, majority of the party leaders showed their support to Harish Rawat during the Uttarakhand Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting held earlier.

Rawat’s rise to chief ministership

Born and raised at Mohnari, Rawat worked his way to chair from the grassroots. Starting his political career as a gram pradhan in 1972, Harish Rawat, a law post graduate was elected as a block pramukh in 1973. The big moment came in 1977, when Harish Rawat was chosen as the Youth Congress district president. It was during this time that he came close to the late Sanjay Gandhi, who not only nurtured him but also gave him the party ticket from Almora during the 1980 Lok Sabha elections.

A young Harish Rawat shot into limelight and silenced his critics when he delivered a shocking defeat to senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi from the Almora Lok Sabha seat in 1980. He retained the seats during the 1984 and 1989 Lok Sabha elections.

However owing to the Ram Mandir politics that engulfed the country and his party’s policy towards the issue, Harish Rawat lost four consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Almohra in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999.

In the year 2009, what was being seen as the biggest risk of his political career, Harish Rawat decided to contest from Haridwar Lok Sabha seat, after Almora Lok Sabha seat was reserved in the new delimitation exercise. Not only did he win the seat but also bagged the cabinet birth in the Manmohan Singh government as the Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment. Later he was given the charge of Parliamentary Affairs and Food Processing.

The 2012 Assembly elections in the state saw a major downfall of Congress who managed to win by only one seat. This time too, Harish Rawat was denied the chair of Chief Minister and instead the party high command rested their faith in Vijay Bahuguna, MP from Tehri Garhwal. Perplexed over the antipathy towards Harish Rawat by the Congress High Command, his supporters staged 18-day dharna at New Delhi. Harish Rawat was then given the portfolio of Union Minister for Water Resources.

The downfall of Vijay Bahuguna

Vijay Bahuguna’s removal as the Uttarakhand Chief Minister was perhaps the biggest after effect of the Himalayan Tsunami that struck the state in June. The natural disaster that led to large scale devastation and death of around 5,000 people and thousands missing, claimed its latest victim; Vijay Bahuguna. The failure to handle the situation by the state government headed by Vijay Bahuguna gave a major opportunity to Harish Rawat to lay his claim on the coveted chair and demand Bahuguna’s ouster.

The disgruntlement among the masses over the shoddy re-development work being carried out by the Bahuguna led state government coupled with crucial Lok Sabha elections ahead, gave a strong reason to the Congress party high command for change of guard in the state.

With massive rebuilding efforts needed in the state for reconstruction of roads, bridges, culverts, schools and colleges, a large affected population has been dissatisfied and are still looking towards the state government for rebuilding their devastated lives. By removing Bahuguna and placing Harish Rawat as the head of state, Congress is not only expecting a speedy development but also projecting a positive image among the masses that have been completely disillusioned with Vijay Bahuguna and the party.

Challenges ahead

The biggest challenge for Harish Rawat apart from speeding up the re-development work in the state would be to bring out a positive and people friendly image of Congress among the masses. With a handful of months left for the crucial Lok Sabha elections, Harish Rawat has to bring out a magic wand for desired results. Even though he has a strong public support in both Kumaon and Garhwal region, Harish Rawat will have to put a strong fight against the BJP in the forthcoming polls to secure a respectable winning score.

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