The completion of first hundred days of the Congress government led by Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna was marked more by political management to stay afloat that created a lot of controversy than governance. The winning over an opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator by the ruling Congress has started a controversy with far-reaching consequences on the politics of the state.
After the Congress won a razor-thin victory in the Assembly elections, the selection of Vijay Bahuguna, a Lok Sabha MP from Tehri Garhwal, as Chief Minister triggered a near revolt by Union Minister of State for Agriculture, Food Processing and Parliamentary Affairs Harish Rawat and his supporters. Apart from winning over independents, BSP and the lone UKD (P) legislators to cobble up a majority, Bahuguna had a tough time in managing his own flock of Congress legislators. With active support from the party high command, he was able to placate Harish Rawat by offering ministerial berths and other positions, including a Rajya Sabha berth to his supporters.
The formation of his ministry also remained a tough job as independents, BSP and lone UKD (P) legislators were given ministerial berths. Most of the initial one-and-a-half month of the tenure was spent in the political management with Chief Minister frequenting the national capital for advice and consultations with the party high command. Many ministers owing allegiance to Harish Rawat were reluctant in taking up their jobs as they were unhappy with the allocation of the portfolios. However, slowly, they realized the ground realities and started working.
The state Congress government won its first floor test with the passage of the first budget of the Bahuguna government this month. The budget was passed without any major hiccup despite the fact that many of the ministers, including some senior ministers, were found wanting in their replies in the House.
Another bigger challenge for Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna was to look for a safe assembly segment for himself to enter the state assembly. Amid mounting opposition from within the party from the powerful Harish Rawat camp, it was a difficult task to get a seat for the Chief Minister without disturbing the fragile majority of the ruling combination.
The ruling party then did a coup of sorts by getting opposition BJP legislator Kiran Mandal representing the Sitarganj assembly segment in Udham Singh Nagar district resign his seat. As part of the deal, the state government gave ownership rights of the leased agricultural lands to the Bengali immigrants. The Bengali population has a majority in the Assembly segment followed by the Muslim community. The second demand of the Bengali community to grant the Scheduled Castes status to "Namo Shudras" among the Bengali immigrants was sent to the Union Government for action by the state government. Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna is the Congress candidate for the byelection for the Sitarganj assembly seat to be held on July 8.
However, the winning over of Kiran Mandal did create a controversy where the main opposition BJP accused the Chief Minister and the Congress of introducing a culture of horse trading of legislators and spending a huge amount of money to win over the loyalties of opposition legislators.
The outcry by the BJP which also went to complain against the Chief Minister to the Election Commission did put brakes on the Congress game plan to win over another BJP legislator.
Bhim Lal Arya, BJP legislator from Ghansali in Tehri Garhwal district, went missing and there were strong indications that he would be resigning his seat also. After persistent efforts to contact him failed, senior BJP leaders also announced that Bhim Lal Arya was "gone". Interestingly, Bhim Lal Arya also wrote a letter to party president Nitin Gadkari asking him not to field BJP candidate against Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna. However, on the other hand, a section of senior Congress party leaders felt that any more defections after Kiran Mandal episode at a crucial moment where Chief Minister is fighting a byelection would send a wrong signal among the masses. So, the Congress managers, stalled the "Operation Bhim Lal Arya" and allowed him to go home. Back at his native place Ghansali, Bhim Lal Arya again switched tune and reaffirmed his commitment to his BJP. He was brought to Dehradun and paraded before the media in presence of senior party leaders BC Khanduri and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.
Political analayts believe that the trend started by the Congress government to manage a majority and to reach a magic figure of 36 legislators on their own so that they could dispense with the crutches of the BSP, Independents and lone UKD (P) legislator, was wrong.
On the governance front, there is much that the Congress government can claim during the past 100 days. The state faced the worst water and power crisis during the ongoing summer season with power cuts extending to hours together. Bahuguna took a decision to restart the stalled hydro-electric projects in the state but met with stiff opposition from saints and environmental groups. He pleaded for re-starting of the stalled projects at the meeting of the Ganga River Basin Authority meet chaired by Prime Minister on May 17 but the meeting remained inconclusive.
Bahuguna did go to each and every district and promised a transparent administration but it was not reflected in the actions of the state government. Frequent transfers of officers, stalling of the Transfer Act and decision to permit private universities, point towards the fact that something was wrong in the state government.
Pant vs Bahuguna
The faction-ridden Uttarakhand unit of the BJP finally decided to put up senior party leader and former Assembly Speaker Parkash Pant against Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna from Sitarganj as party candidate. Parkash Pant, who lost the Assembly elections from Pithoragarh his home town, is expected to give a fight to the Chief Minister.
After announcement of his candidature, Parkash Pant has started his campaign in right earnest. He has been trying to contact a maximum number of voters in the assembly segment. Since, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has given the benefit of ownership rights of their leased agricultural land to the dominant Bengali immigrant community, Parkash Pant has been trying to find loopholes in the government order in the matter and also trying to encash the resentment of the other communities against the government decision.
The BJP leaders are claiming that they would be fighting the byelection seriously to avenge the defeat of former Chief Minister BC Khanduri from Kotdwar in the Assembly elections by defeating the Congress Chief Minister.