A veteran for 'Uttarakhand'

Published : Mar 16, 2002 00:00 IST

Heading the government of a faction-ridden Congress(I) in Uttaranchal may be N.D. Tiwari's toughest test yet.

CONGRESSMEN in Uttaranchal had hardly got over the shock of the party winning power in the State and were still fighting over who would be Chief Minister, State party president Harish Rawat or former Union Minister Satpal Maharaj, when the high command sprang a surprise by appointing the septuagenarian N.D. Tiwari to the post.

For Tiwari, however, the elevation is more of a comedown. Having been Chief Minister of the undivided Uttar Pradesh three times and Union Minister several times, it is surprising that Tiwari agreed to the offer. The drama that unfolded in Dehra Dun and New Delhi after his name was announced by Congress(I) spokesperson Ambika Soni, has ominous portents. Harish Rawat's supporters, who considered him to be the most genuine claimant to the post because he led the party to the victory, blocked roads in Dehra Dun, staged a dharna and stoned vehicles in front of the Congress(I) office. In New Delhi they shouted slogans in front of the party headquarters at 24 Akbar Road, only to be told in no uncertain terms by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the general secretary in charge of party affairs in the State, that the high command's decision was irrevocable. At one stage it appeared that the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in Uttaranchal might split. Only after Rawat was summoned to Delhi and told to keep his flock under check did matters return to normal, paving the way for Tiwari's swearing in on March 2.

Earlier, perhaps fearing an open revolt, Tiwari did not go to Governor S.S. Barnala to stake claim after he was declared the CLP leader. Instead, seven of his supporters among the 36 MLAs, including Indira Hridayesh, Speaker in the outgoing Assembly, met the Governor on March 1. Tiwari was sworn in Chief Minister the next day along with 14 Cabinet Ministers and three Ministers of State in a ceremony at the ONGC auditorium. Tiwari looked pleased by the crowd, which kept on raising slogans in his support.

However, he will need more than such support in running the State. People's aspirations are high and so are their expectations. The Congress(I)' victory is attributed to the lack of an alternative and the fact that the people were disillusioned with the then Bharatiya Janata Party government. Even senior Congress(I) leaders in Delhi, who were in the State for the elections, were taken by surprise by the party's victory. At best they had hoped for a respectable showing. Before the results were declared, a crestfallen Subodh Kant Sahay, the Congress(I) general secretary who was in charge of the party's affairs in the State, told this correspondent, "We could have formed the government but the infighting among local leaders has spoiled our chance." He was referring to the open fight between Rawat and Satpal Maharaj. It had come to the fore during the ticket distribution process when Satpal Maharaj threatened to resign if his nominees from Pauri Garhwal, the constituency he once represented in the Lok Sabha, were not given the ticket. He had his way, with 11 of his nominees, including his wife Amrita Rawat, getting the ticket. Tiwari, whose patronage Satpal Maharaj enjoys, had mediated in his favour. In the event, seven of them won.

Though Harish Rawat did not go out of his way to develop a rapport with the people during campaigning, as the State unit chief it was natural for him to aspire to the top post. Besides, he enjoyed proximity to 10 Janpath, a fact that had made his appointment as State president possible. However, Rawat does not have a mass following except in some pockets of the Garhwal region.

Satpal Maharaj's claim to popularity is grounded more in religion than in politics. He is the religious head of a large ashram in Pauri Garhwal and is referred to as Maharaj by his disciples. The ashram has branches in other parts of the country and abroad. He inherited it from his elder brother Baleshwar Yogi, whose name was linked to a case involving shady deals some years ago and who is now in oblivion. The prospect of having a person with such a background as Chief Minister did pose a dilemma for the Congress(I) high command. And Satpal Maharaj ensured that if he could not become the Chief Minister neither would Rawat.

Thus Tiwari came into the picture as the only one who had a political base and the needed administrative experience. Besides, his was a name nobody would dare object to. The goodwill created by the development work he had initiated in the Terai region during his chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh also went in his favour.

But an indication of the hostility he might face was provided by the about-turn in the stand of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. It had initially indicated that it was not averse to joining a Congress(I)-led government. But that was when Rawat was tipped to be the Chief Minister. In fact, it was Rawat who had forged the apparently covert deal with the UKD, which made a direct fight with the BJP possible in many constituencies. There were murmurs, during campaigning, of a secret understanding between the UKD and the Congress(I). The rumours were confirmed after the results came, when Rawat, assuming that he would be the Chief Minister, announced that even though the Congress(I) had a majority on its own, it would include the UKD in the government. This, he said, was "to remove the communication gap that had been created between the people and the government" during BJP rule.

Now the UKD has announced that it will sit in the Opposition. The UKD's nuisance value was in evidence during campaigning when it stoked regional feelings on the issue of development. Tiwari will have to guard against this factor because it was what caused the BJP's fall.

Another challenge that lies ahead of him is the dissent within. Though Harish Rawat has opted to keep quiet, he may be biding his time. The fact that 18 MLAs came out in Rawat's support after the high command announced Tiwari's name should be a cause for worry for him. Tiwari will have to ensure that he does not become another Nityanand Swami - a victim of dissidence in the BJP. Swami is Tiwari's close friend and one of the reasons why he lost his chief ministership was that he was seen more as a Tiwari man than a BJP Chief Minister. Neither of them was ever associated with the movement for the creation of the State. In fact, in the early years of the demand for a separate State Tiwari was quoted as saying that it would only be created over his body. As the head of the new State, he will have to guard against his past positions clouding his present status. Even now people in Uttaranchal do not see him as one of their own. To change this perception, perhaps by kick-starting the development process, will be Tiwari's biggest challenge.

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