Dehradun: The Congress has “succeeded” in making the 14 February Uttarakhand assembly elections all about real issues on the ground, because of which even the BJP has been “forced to talk about them instead of focusing on Modi, BJP-brand Hindutva and BJP-brand nationalism”, former chief minister Harish Rawat has said.
In an interview to ThePrint, the Congress’ campaign in-charge in Uttarakhand said the main issues his party will be fighting on this election include job creation, priority to women in employment, and a cap on LPG cylinder prices. Playing down the fact that the Congress has not yet named a chief ministerial candidate, Rawat said such issues are not significant as this election is all about local issues.
Days after Congress fielded him from Lalkuan constituency in Nainital district, changing its previous decision to field him from his stronghold Ramnagar, ThePrint caught up with Rawat on the party’s poll prospects, factionalism and a host of other issues.
He also spoke about his daughter Anupama Rawat being fielded from the Haridwar (Rural) seat, despite the Congress “one family one ticket” formula, the Hinduism-versus-Hindutva debate, and the new entrant in Uttarakhand politics, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Congress’ CM face, BJP & Hinduism
Party insiders claim that the Congress has adopted a strategy of not officially naming Rawat as the CM candidate to ensure it doesn’t lead to more factionalism. “There are so many camps and…no official CM face has been made public, all of them are working to gain victory,” a senior Congress leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
But Rawat maintained the party has put aside the issue. “A message should have gone out as to who will lead the campaign. The party leadership has maintained that it will be Harish Rawat. It was announced by the party. And now this is enough,” the former CM said.
“It does not matter whether we declare the CM face or not as the election is all about local issues. It is because of this that even the BJP has been forced to talk about local issues, not Modi, BJP-brand Hindutva and BJP-brand nationalism,” he continued.
Rawat also said he is “the symbolic face of the struggle” in Uttarakhand. “I am leading this struggle. I only know this much. After the struggle, we will win, and after that, there are certain traditions to be followed, which we will. I never asked the party to declare me as the CM face. Whatever the party will decide, I will accept,” he said.
The BJP has been criticising the Congress in Uttarakhand of minority appeasement with state party chief Madan Kaushik as well as Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami alleging that Rawat has promised to establish a Muslim university if voted to power. The BJP has already held a number of press conferences on the issue and has been targeting the Congress and Rawat over it on social media as well, but the Congress leader denied this.
“I have never had any such talks with anyone. No Muslim brother ever demanded this. BJP has a habit of making such false claims and blaming us. We will dedicate one university as a Sanskrit university. We will also try to set up a chair after Maharshi Valmiki in Doon University,” Rawat said.
He added that he subscribes to the teachings of Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi on Hindutva and Hinduism, while the BJP is focussed on a “brand of Hindutva” that promotes “intolerance and hatred”.
“This new [brand] of Hindu that has come, which kills Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu that promotes intolerance, we don’t know that Hindu,” alleged Rawat.
“We believe in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, tolerance and humanism. We believe in what Vivekananda said, that Hinduism is benevolent and believes in humanism. It takes everyone along and has the capability to lead all others,” he further said, adding: “If there is any new Hinduism, then BJP would know about it. I don’t know from where they have coined it, from which dictionary.”
This is not the first time a Congress leader had initiated a debate over Hinduism and Hindutva, Rahul Gandhi has often targeted the BJP on this plank.
“I don’t know about soft and hard Hindutva. I only know Hindu. And I am a Hindu. If my sporting this teeka (vermillion mark on the forehead) makes me a hard Hindu, then I don’t subscribe to it. But after offering my prayers to God, I put a teeka on my forehead. I get peace by doing this,” Rawat said.
“Hindu is one who believes in his/her own faith but also respects other religions… I don’t know this new brand of Hindus, who only believe in Modi. I believe in nationalism which fought against the British. I believe in nationalism which unites and not divides people,” said Rawat.
The Congress leader claimed Uttarakhand economy is in bad shape and resources have dried up completely.
“Unemployment has also led to resentment which is hampering overall growth in the state. We will start with resource mobilisation. We will form a separate council that will carry out such studies,” he said.
“At the same time, we will start work on filling up vacancies and creating jobs as the youth are quite disenchanted. We will create job opportunities for all sections of society,” Rawat further said, adding that if voted to power, his government will initiate work on ensuring a Rs 500 cap on LPG cylinders.
The former chief minister accepted that the Congress’ Uttarakhand unit was in disarray when he took over the reins of the election campaign a few months ago. Before taking over, Rawat was busy overseeing party affairs in Punjab as the Congress’ state in-charge there. However, he maintained that this factionalism would not hamper the party’s chances in Uttarakhand.
“I had to face two fundamental challenges. First, the organisation (Uttarakhand) was completely paralysed. Second, the state unit leaders were quite hostile towards me. Their conduct was very bad. But I am managing that situation,” Rawat said.
“I was busy with Punjab but still I used to take out some time for Uttarakhand. Later, they told me to take the reins of the state and now the situation has completely changed in our favour. Party workers are enthusiastic now and voters are speaking in our favour,” he continued.
“Party workers are united and are quite confident that the Congress will be able to form the government. They are also aware of the fact that a small mistake can prove costly for us, and hence, they are not getting into any groupism. Party leaders might be indulging in it, but we try not to give much importance to such issues.”
Daughter gets a ticket
There was much discontent in the state unit after Rawat’s daughter Anupama was fielded from Haridwar (Rural), despite the Congress deciding to follow a ‘one family, one ticket’ formula in Uttarakhand and other states.
Under this same formula, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s brother Manohar Singh was denied a ticket (he’s now contesting as an Independent), while Uttarakhand Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat, who recently returned to the party fold from the BJP, was also not fielded as his daughter-in-law Anukriti Gusain was given a ticket from Lansdowne.
“My family and I have waited 20 years for this opportunity. The day these critics will wait for 22 years to get such an opportunity, they can come and question me. My daughter has been working for the past 10 years on a seat that has never been won by the Congress. She is working on a seat traditionally held by the BJP. The Congress did not win this seat even in erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. We did not win the seat after the 1980s,” said Harish Rawat.
AAP’s entry in Uttarakhand politics
The AAP, which is a major player in Punjab, is also contesting assembly elections in Uttarakhand this time. However, Rawat said this will have no impact on the results.
He ruled out a triangular contest with the AAP, adding that the party merely parachuting itself into the state months before elections will not yield any result. “Vote-cutters have no place in Uttarakhand’s politics. The contest is only between the BJP and Congress and the people know that only Congress is the alternative,” he added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
Source: The Print