“People support Congress”
HARISH RAWAT hopes Congress will return to power in Uttarakhand by capitalizing on the failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party to address issues such as unemployment and rising prices. Hitting the campaign trail in Lalkuwa constituency, he claimed that the Congress election promise to provide four lakh government jobs and set the price of LPG cylinder at Rs 500 was not an inducement; the party was working out the details. He exudes confidence that people have faith in his leadership and in the process seems to be sending a message to the party high command as he has not nominated him as the chief ministerial candidate. Excerpts from an interview:
We are very well prepared. Congress executives are enthusiastic. There is a desire for change. The people are determined to oust the BJP and bring Congress to power. We are only the medium, because Arjun was Krishna’s medium in the Mahabharata. It is the people who are waging a battle against the BJP’s arrogance and lack of performance.
The people of Uttarakhand find this slogan repugnant. Over the past five years, the BJP’s three chief ministers have stifled the aspirations of the people and hurt the esteem of the state. There is a palpable rage against the BJP’s “dual engine” government. What better evidence can there be than the BJP’s decision to remove its prime minister after keeping him in office for three and a half years? The BJP then experimented with a second chief minister, who was quickly replaced, leaving people perplexed. Then came a third chief minister, whom the party had not even found worthy of a ministerial post before.
The third chief minister, sensing that his regime might be short-lived, wasted no time and opportunity to exploit every river, stream and drain in the state without regard to the environmental consequences of such activities. People started calling her “khanan-priya” [mining freak].
Uttarakhand has reported the second highest number of COVID deaths after Uttar Pradesh, in terms of death to population ratio in 2020. People have been left to fend for themselves with no hospital beds, oxygen and life-saving drugs. Similar mishandling of the health crisis was seen during the Kumbh mela in 2021. There was also a massive testing scam. The state-proud Kumbh event has been called a “corona spreader”. The people of the state will avenge this indifference on election day.
Kath ki handi bar bar nahi chahadti. [You can’t sell the same lies again and again.] In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sold the myth of ‘shamshan ghaat-kabristan’ to the people, denigrating the dignity of the office he holds. The BJP reaped its electoral dividends not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in Uttarakhand, where the Congress was surprisingly routed after being the favourite. However, if you look closely at voting trends from the 2017 election, you will find that Congress retained its traditional voters who elected it to power in 2012. It was voters supporting smaller regional parties who changed of allegiance to the BJP.
This time, the anti-incumbency is marked. The problems of unemployment, non-governance and inflation peaked. These questions affect the common man. The BJP will find itself on a shaky wicket if it tries to sell community narratives to people. People are comparing the BJP government to that of the previous Congress government, which provided a stable economy, introduced extensive social welfare schemes and made a sincere effort to appoint a Lok Ayukta. People are disappointed with the empty promises of the BJP and support the Congress.
Manifesto has a strong vision for Uttarakhand
Our manifesto is a comprehensive document. It contains a strong vision for Uttarakhand. He is also armed with models of effective solutions to repair the economic damage caused by the BJP government. Our goal is not only to chaar dham [four pilgrim sites] but also relentless kaam [work]. We have pledged to provide four lakh jobs, subsidized gas cylinders and economic aid of Rs 40,000 per annum to five lakh families, upgrade health facilities and provide health care to people in the hinterland. country. The highlights of the Congress manifesto left the BJP feeling threatened and the party has since postponed the release of its manifesto.
As for those who doubt that our promises are kept, we have a chapter in our manifesto that focuses on mobilizing resources and increasing people’s purchasing power. The performance of Congress during his tenure in 2012-17 is his strongest testimony. When a natural calamity devastated 80% of the state’s geographic expanse in 2013, we surprised everyone by rebuilding the state and rehabilitating the homeless in the record time of a year and a half. We achieved this despite a general downturn in the economy at the time. Today, the state’s economy is in tatters, but Congress’s commitment is to revive it and bring general relief to the people.
Representation of women
The call for women’s representation in politics or their global emancipation cannot be placed within the narrow confines of ticket distribution. It is a call to build an India where women’s rights and representation are guaranteed in all spheres of life. It is a call to instill a sense of commitment in people at the grassroots level to put women’s issues first and create an environment for women to realize their full potential without prejudice.
He has parallels with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi garibi hatao countryside. Although poverty could not be alleviated with a single slogan, it was instrumental in shaping a form of government whose agenda was poverty alleviation. Priyanka Gandhi’s call for massive participation of women in politics serves a similar purpose. It aims to create a consensus for a political current that gives primacy to the emancipation of women and instills in women the confidence to be their own protectors.
It is a state where one in twenty families gave the country a martyr. Most of these families are associated with Congress, although we choose not to make an exhibit of them. My son-in-law, an army major, lost his life in operations in Kashmir. In my extended family, there are nearly 70 members who serve in the military, from privates to corporals. Defending the country and making supreme sacrifices is part of the tradition and cultural ethos of Uttarakhand. The BJP cannot play the nationalism card here as people see through this charade.
Moreover, it is the BJP that has blocked army recruitment for the past five years. While in office, I opened an additional recruiting center in Pithorgarh. You will be surprised to learn that the BJP, when it came to power in 2017, shut down the center. The Congress government had relaxed the education criteria for army recruitment, the BJP rescinded this. People here know the real face of the BJP.
“People won’t fall in love with the PAA”
The AAP entered the electoral fray very late. Unlike Delhi, Uttarakhand has a complex and diverse geographical, economic and social terrain. You can’t understand the region or carve out a place for yourself in a few months. The AAP’s inexperience in Uttarakhand, coupled with a general pro-Congress sentiment, has led to a situation where the AAP is viewed as a vote-cutter, tasked with bailing out the BJP.
The AAP has made promises, such as free energy consumption of up to 300 units, which are nearly impossible to implement. People know that the party failed to deliver on a similar promise made in Delhi, despite the union territory having a budget five times larger than ours. People won’t fall for the AAP.
We welcomed the decision of the Electoral Commission and decided to do our best. I am the only politician in the state to have addressed 59 precincts in virtual town hall meetings. We use all social media platforms to disseminate information related to our party’s manifesto and connect with the electorate.
It was the responsibility of the Election Commission to devise alternative platforms to reach the electorate given that a large portion of the state’s population does not have internet access. But our workers have taken it as a challenge and are focusing on individual campaigns.
There was no controversy at all. I was originally supposed to challenge Ramnagar, but in hindsight the party felt that the coordination [of election campaign] would be better if I challenged from Lalkuwa. When I spoke to potential candidates for Lalkuwa, they welcomed me with open arms. Lalkuwa is as much a home to me as Ramnagar is. Also, Lalkuwa is the cultural hub of Uttarakhand, and as someone very proud of our cultural heritage, it was my natural choice.
There are two factors in this election. One is change. People want a changing of the guard in the state as they are fed up with the BJP for reneging on all its promises and failing to tackle unemployment and rising prices. The other factor is the choice of the chief minister. So even if there are organizational apprehensions, people’s determination for change and their confidence in my leadership will drive them to vote for Congress.
Our campaign is going well and there are no problems within the party.