New Delhi: It is strange to know that Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat, who was expected to step down to ensure the party remains united in the run-up to assembly polls next year, has emerged undisputed leader of the state unit besides gaining a moral and legal victory over his rivals.
Rawat has exposed Bahuguna, Harak Singh and other co-conspirators, and also gained sympathy of voters in an election year.
The 67-year-old Rajput leader started his political career in village politics and made entry into the Lok Sabha in 1980 after defeating BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi from Almora.
The veteran Congress leader was on a political roller coaster for the last six weeks following the dismissal of his government. But a five-term MP, Rawat showed both political sagacity and exemplary tenacity in foiling the BJP’s attempts.
Rawat, who took over the reins of his home state in February 2014 after chief minister Vijay Bahuguna had to step down in the aftermath of the massive floods that ravaged large parts of Uttarakhand, had earlier lost two chances to become the chief minister in 2002 and 2012.
Rawat faced the toughest test of his career when on March 18, when nine of his party MLAs revolted and joined hands with BJP to vote against the passage of the Appropriation Bill, but the Uttarakhand High Court’s role against the President’s rule paved the way for his restoration.
The HC pointed out one careless mistake on BJP’s part and made the latter’s strategy a damp squib. The decision to submit a joint memorandum to the governor by BJP MLAs along with Congress rebels on the night of March 18 over the passage of the appropriation bill turned the tables as it was written on the state BJP chief and leader of opposition Ajay Bhatt’s letter head.
Disqualifying the rebel Congress leaders, the high court referred to the signature of the nine MLAs on the memorandum and said it amounted to defection from the party. Had the Congress rebels not been disqualified, Rawat’s defeat would have been a foregone conclusion.
When governor K K Paul asked Rawat to seek a trust vote on March 28, a sting video surfaced which showed Rawat negotiating a money deal with a journalist to buy back the support of Congress rebels. As the BJP alleged horsetrading by Rawat, governor’s report was sent to the Centre. The Union cabinet held an emergency meeting the same day and recommended President’s rule. President Pranab Mukherjee put his stamp on the recommendation and the state was placed under central rule on March 27, a day before the scheduled floor test.
Rawat moved the High Court, which on April 21 quashed the order, and ordered for a floor test on April 29, but the Supreme Court after staying it shifted the date for floor test to test if Rawat enjoyed the majority in the state assembly.
The soft spoken Rawat used his persuasive skills to ensure that some Congress MLAs, considered close to BJP leader and former state Congress heavyweight Satpal Mahraj, did not cross floor during the trial of strength, and he managed the show.
He was restored as the chief minister of Uttarakhand 46 days after he was ousted by the Centre in a political battle that ended in a setback to Narendra Modi government.
Amidst celebrations, like a seasoned leader Rawat, however, restrained his comments and pledged to start afresh forgetting the “bad patch” to take the state forward.
(Arun Chaubey and Satya Prakash Pandey)