Former CM Harish Rawat faces litmus test as he again contests from new seat
Harish Rawat, who has been chief minister of the state in the past, has been campaigning hard in Nainital district’s Lalkuan constituency, where he has been addressing gatherings, holding doorstep meetings and conducting road shows almost daily.
After losing in the past three elections, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Harish Rawat, the candidate in Lalkuan for the Congress party, and its chief election strategist in Uttarakhand, which elects a new assembly on February 14.
Rawat, who has been chief minister of the state in the past, has been campaigning hard in Nainital district’s Lalkuan constituency, where he has been addressing gatherings, holding doorstep meetings and conducting road shows almost daily.
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He starts his day with a recitation of Hanuman Chalisa, yoga, prayers and light breakfast, after which he starts campaigning, reaching out to voters through dozen public gatherings, road shows and door-to-door meetings.
Besides campaigning in Lalkuan and visiting different areas of the state, Rawat almost daily addresses people and party cadre in different assembly segments virtually. On the last day of campaigning, Rawat virtually addressed people and party workers in the Bhimtal, Dwarahat, Kedarnath, Kapkot, Didihat, Nainital, Dharchula, Bageshwar constituencies, seeking the blessings of people to make Congress victorious in the state polls.
Rawat is contesting assembly elections for the first time from Lalkuan, where he intends to reverse his losing streak. If he wins, he will be a strong contender for the chief minister’s post if Congress returns to power in the state.
“Having travelled and known people across the state including Lalkuan, if I am not in the hearts of the people here, then all this has no meaning, Rawat said at a media briefing on Saturday. “But I am sure I am in their hearts, and they will bless me by making Congress victorious.”
Rawat maintained that his fight is to save the intrinsic values of Uttarakhand and its people, which have been endangered in the past five years of rule by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Many developmental works he had initiated were stopped by incumbent government, he said.
“People of Lalkua are set to repose their faith in a well-tested leader like me, whom they know well,” Rawat said.
The former chief minister is also leaving no stones unturned to ensure a win for his daughter, Anupama Rawat, who is contesting on a Congress ticket from Haridwar Rural constituency, especially after the Bahujan Samaj Party fielded a Muslim candidate from the seat.
“While last time there was disappointment, the people of Haridwar also know how to give blessings,” Rawat told voters in Haridwar district a few days ago. “In this elections, Congress’s winning chariot will start from Haridwar district. Whether it’s Anupama Rawat or Satpal Brahamchari (candidate from Haridwar City), Rajbeer Chauhan (Ranipur-BHEL candidate), or all other eight candidates from the district, making them victorious is the responsibility of all voters. I assure you of ushering in development. I won’t be just be making lofty claims like is being done by the so-called double-engine government.”
The BJP has been campaigning on the double-engine plank, extolling of the benefits of having a BJP government at both the Centre and the state.
This election is a litmus test for Rawat electorally, who will be contesting from a new seat for the fourth time. Rawat became a state lawmaker for the first time in 2014 after winning by-elections from Dharchula constituency of Pithoragarh district. After that, in the 2017 assembly elections, he fought from Haridwar Rural and Kiccha in Udham Singh Nagar district, but lost in both to BJP candidates.
Despite his defeat in 2017, the Congress gave him a ticket to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar constituency. He was defeated in this contest as well by BJP’s Ajay Bhat by a margin of nearly 3.4 lakh votes.
Rawat has contested parliamentary elections nine times and had been an MP four times. He was elected from Almora constituency in 1980, 1984 and 1989, and once from Haridwar in 2009. He was the water resources minister in 2012-14 in the United Progressive Alliance government lead by the Congress.
Rawat, who has emerged as the central figure in the Uttarakhand elections, is also facing attacks from BJP heavyweights, who have been campaigning aggressively against him. The state unit of the BJP has been focusing its strategy against Rawat and the failures of his previous regime.
Rawat also faces challenges within the party, as some are unhappy with him contesting from Lalkua at the last moment. Congress’s earlier candidate from Lalkuan constituency, Sandhya Dalakoti, has refused to withdraw his nomination papers, after which she was expelled from the party for six years. Dalakoti has been actively working to dent the voter base of Rawat.