Harish Rawat: “We will like to go together with PDF in the polls”

Harish Rawat has had a long journey from INTUC worker to Chief Minister. As Uttarakhand heads for polls, National Herald asks Rawat if he will romp home to victory again

Photo by Rishi Ballabh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Rishi Ballabh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Abid Shah

Rising from the ranks as a trade union worker in Indian National Trade Union Congress to the top post of Congress Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Harish Rawat has been caught in many upheavals. Thus far he has remained unscathed, but as the Central Himalayan State once again gears up for assembly polls, Abid Shah asks him if he will be able to romp home once again. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with National Herald.

Uttarakhand is among few Congress-ruled states, pointing to lean times for the party. How are you going to face next month’s polls amid talks of Congress-Mukt Bharat or a Congress-free India?

It is going to be through our performance thus far. You know in disaster management our work has been appreciated by all. So we are quite hopeful that people will bless us again.

How can you say that when your party does not have any popular face in Garhwal as most Congress leaders in the state come from Kumaon region?

My PCC president Kishore Upadhyaya is from Garhwal. He is a very popular face. Then there are seven MLAs who are second and third term MLAs. They are also very popular faces like Dr Anusuya Prasad Maikhuri, Ganesh Godiyal. Then there is Rajendra Bhandari who is a minister also. Nav Prabhat is also popular face. There are many others like Vijaypal Sajwan.

If you (are referring to) those Aya Ram Gaya Ram who deserted Congress Party (an obvious reference to Vijay Bahuguna and his cohorts who left Congress in March last year and now are in BJP), that’s why an impression has been created that there is a vacuum. But there is no vacuum. And we have a very good second line of leadership who will assume the role of frontline leaders.

Progressive Democratic Front with its six members in the Uttarakhand Assembly is part of your Government. Will you fight the assembly polls in alliance with them?

Certainly, we will like to go together in the polls. But anyway we will decide it mutually.

In the wake of a sting operation by a TV news channel, the CBI has lodged a case against you? Will this be an issue in the polls? How are you going to face it?

Actually, Central Government has made CBI a tool in their hands and they are determined to use it against their political opponents. A lot of people are facing CBI inquiry and I am one among them. I am asking the people to tell me what is my culpability in that case? Whether I am talking that I need MLA, whether I am brokering some hisab-kitab (wheeling-dealing), mol bhaav (bargaining)? Am I doing that? Or, am I paying some money? Is some cash transaction taking place? Nothing. Not even that I am asking that I need MLA. Nor am I asking any price for it. A discussion is again a discussion. There may be some point (but) that cannot be a basis. That doesn’t prove my culpability. If there is no culpability then how can you go on? This so-called sting has in fact nothing against me.

If anything is there, then it is against BJP because in the initial remarks he says that there was a conspiracy that was hatched against your government by so-and-so BJP leaders. They mentioned their national and local leaders. Then he says money has changed hands but I don’t know who has paid how much. So conspiracy against an elected government is itself an offence. CBI needs to enquire to prove their impartiality in the case. Then in that sting, the gentleman says that a shaterdalal or broker—was sitting in the Chief Minister’s house for two years who was brokering all kinds of things. The name mentioned by him happens to be the son of the former Chief Minister. That is also a point that BJP should answer, was it a fact because the gentleman is now a BJP leader.

Will you take back some of your party MLAs who left Congress along with former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna and joined BJP, now that elections have been declared?

We won’t because they are culprits who can’t be forgiven, who can’t be pardoned. Dal badal (defection) is a serious offence in parliamentary democracy.

Why did you announce an hour-and-a-half break for Muslims among government staff for Friday afternoon prayers, that allowed BJP to create resentment among non-Muslims?

In fact, it was not for Muslims. It was for all religions and sects. I said people are asking for a special holiday. Instead of granting them special holiday we will grant them special leave, a short leave of an-hour-and-half and it will be extended to Muslims also during the month of Ramzan and not throughout the year. But because the name Muslim was mentioned that’s why they (BJP) cried foul. Otherwise the facility was extended to all Hindus and Sikhs too. Everybody can apply to the head of department for this short leave.

We won’t (take back those who left the party) because they are culprits who can’t be forgiven, who can’t be pardoned. Dal badal (defection) is a serious offence in parliamentary democracy.
Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat

People living in the hilly parts of your state feel that their counterparts in the plains are better off. Is there a mismatch vis-à-vis living standards or opportunities?

There is no divide. There is no such question. They are getting jobs also when there is a vacancy. This is not a question in our state. But hills and hill people do need some more care because these are difficult areas and people living there deserve to be helped by the state government in a different way.

The last delimitation of constituencies has brought more seats to the plains than hills because plains are more densely populated than hills. How do you view this?

There is a problem. We will sort it out in time. We will talk to Election Commission and if there is any solution we will find it out.

Abid Shah is an independent researcher and journalist based in Delhi

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Published: 06 Jan 2017, 2:26 PM