Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat is the lone ranger from his ruling party — taking on a galaxy of stars from the rival BJP in the electoral battlefield. When it came to blame games, he did his part by pointing fingers at Vijay Bahuguna for the mishandling of rescue operations during the Kedarnath tragedy. In a free-wheeling interview with NIE’s Namita Bajpai, Rawat is confident that the party’s star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi campaign for him in Haridwar will help him return as Chief Minister. Excerpts:
You seem to be a lone soldier spearheading the party campaign in the state while BJP is going full-throttle with a battery of leaders, right from the PM?
Since it is a State election, it should solely be my responsibility to inform people about my achievements and policies for the future. However, BJP is a ‘vote-lutwa’ (vote-snatcher) party. At present, they are busy doing carpet bombing in Uttarakhand and, interestingly, the PM himself is leading that attack.
What’s your take on ‘Harda’ tax which PM referred to during his public meetings?
It is for the first time in state elections that a PM is stooping down to the lowest level for launching personal attacks on rivals. ‘Harda Tax’ (the Chief Minister is often referred to as Harda) was a slogan coined by BJP’s small time leaders and Modiji has picked it up.
None of the erstwhile Prime Ministers have ever used such terms. I believe Modiji should ponder over the point that by using such language he is bringing disgrace to the position he holds. I want to challenge the Prime Minster to get this ‘Harda tax’ probed by a Supreme Court judge, along with the Central Bureau of Investigation, within six months to find out if I minted money misusing my position as the CM. Otherwise, this will crop up as a big question and the PM will have to answer it in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
What are the real challenges you are facing on the ground?
At present, the biggest challenge for us is resources. As the famous ghazal sung by Pankaj Udhas goes: ‘Ek tu hi dhanwaan hai goree baki sab kangal’ can be rephrased as “Ek tu hi dhanwan hai Modi baki sab kangaal.”
How will you stem the rebellion that threatens the party’s prospects in the elections?
It is not that big an issue for Congress since it is limited to a few pockets. Moreover, at some places, the rebels are benefitting the party. BJP has more factions compared to us this time.
What about Congress turncoats who have been given ticket by the BJP?
This time Uttarakhand will vote against the turncoats as people are already fed up with the frequent change of chief ministers. They feel if the tradition of defections gains ground, they will probably have frequently changing CMs and, in turn, instability. Hence, they will avoid such a situation and vote for stability this time.
What about the sting operation BJP leaders are playing up?
It is fake and is a conspiracy hatched by rivals. If there is any case at all, it is against the BJP as the anchor in it claims a plot was hatched to destabilise the government. He takes names of BJP leaders claiming money changed hands.
Will Congress bring Priyanka Gandhi to campaign for you?
Strategically, Haridwar is a densely populated area with 11 Assembly seats. So, we kept her for the last leg to sum up the campaign conclusively.