Congress in a dilemma in Uttarakhand

Dehradun: If the old saying even rats desert a sinking ship holds even an iota of truth, Congress stalwarts shying away from contesting the five Lok Sabha seats in Uttarakhand, is an indication that all is not honky gory for the ruling party, which is in power both in this small hill state and the centre.

In fact, though the BJP had declared its candidates almost 10 days ago and all of them are busy canvassing in their respective parliamentary constituencies and their workers all enthused up, the Congress is finding it hard to settle on the names for the five seats. The important Pauri and Tehri seats seem to have put a spanner in the Congress plans.

It may be hard to believe, but there have been about 12 rounds of meeting at the state and central level to finalise the candidates and even 10 Janpath has taken up the matter and called both the chief minister Harish Rawat and state president Yashpal Arya to sort out the matter, but the conclaves have gone without any result.

The most prospective candidates, at least that is what the Congress high command and the state leaders believe – Satpal Maharaj for Pauri and former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna from Tehri – have both been reluctant from day one and opted out from contesting the Lok Sabha elections, like some of their counterparts in other parts of the country.

In fact Satpal Maharaj sensing that it could become perhaps hard for him to bail out from contesting, like Vijay Bahuguna is now finding, left the Congress itself in a huff. In a move that has left the Congress high and dry, he joined the BJP at a function and was welcomed into the BJP fold by none other than the party national president, Rajnath Singh himself.

This move of his has left a void in the Congress in the Pauri seat and two others – Harak Singh Rawat and Surender Singh – both ministers in the Harish Rawat government who were asked to contest have also backed out on one pretext or the other. If party insiders are to be believed both do not want to risk their ministerial berths by getting a drubbing in the Lok Sabha election.

A section of the Congressmen have tried to push forward the name of Lt Gen (retd) Gambhir Singh Negi, a former commandant of the Indian Military Acadely and chairman of the Uttarakhand Public service Commission, who joined the Congress some time back, asserting that he would be the right choice to take upon Maj Gen (retd) B C Khanduri of the BJP, but by and large there has been opposition to his candidature as they feel, he is a political green horn.

Now there are reports in a section of the Press that former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has told the party high command that he has to go abroad for his wife’s treatment and as such may not be able to contest and the ticket may be given to his son Saket Bahuguna who contested the Tehri by-election and lost, despite his father being the sitting chief minister in the state and the Congress in power.

Apparently the party high command feels that Saket may be a weak candidate and as every seat is crucial want a strong candidate, but there seems to be no one on the cards. What has reportedly peeved Bahuguna further is that chief minister Harish Rawat is trying desperately for his daughter or wife to contest from the Haridwar seat and there are indications that one of them may be given the ticket, but Bahuguna’s son is being denied the ticket from Tehri.

All said and done, the Congress has already lost precious time which could have been utilized for canvassing in the sprawling and spread out seats of this small mountain state which has disheartened the party rank and file and it will take some bold moved to restore their confidence and enthuse them for the hustings.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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