Uttarakhand Elections: How Harak Singh Rawat Became Garhwal's Weather Vane
Harak Singh Rawat has not just changed parties frequently but also seats in Uttarakhand.
A member of three different parties in the past three decades and with more switches than one can remember, Harak Singh Rawat has been a weather vane in Uttarakhand politics.
The only difference is that this time, he was expelled by the BJP before he could make the switch to the Congress and now the latter is in two minds about his entry.
An emotional Rawat said that he had no intention of joining the Congress and that the BJP had treated him unfairly.
In a state that seems to be heading towards a very close mandate, can Harak Singh Rawat tilt the scales?
Let's take a short look at his political career, shifts and what lies ahead for him in this election
SHIFTS NOT JUST PARTIES BUT ALSO SEATS
In 1991, he won from Pauri (then in Uttar Pradesh) on a BJP ticket and became a minister in the Kalyan Singh government, the youngest ever minister in UP's history till then.
The Kalyan Singh goverment was dismissed following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
In 1993, he won again from Pauri on a BJP ticket.
Soon he fell out with the BJP and joined the Janata Dal. He contested from Pauri on a Janata Dal ticket in 1996 and lost to the BJP candidate.
After that he shifted both his party and his constituency. He joined the Congress. And for the 2002 Assembly election - the first in the newly formed Uttarakhand state - he contested from Lansdowne in the same district.
In the 2012 elections, he shifted his seat to Rudraprayag and won.
In 2016, he spearheaded the rebellion against the Congress government led by Harish Rawat. His late night bus trip to Raj Bhawan with rebel MLAs is still remembered as one of the more dramatic moments in Uttarakhand politics. Needless to say, his effort to bring down Harish Rawat's government earned him a great deal of enemies in the Congress, which also explains the party's reluctance to let him return.
The 2017 elections saw Rawat in a different party and a different seat. He was now in the BJP and came down from Rudraprayag back to Kotdwar in Pauri Garhwal district.
Now, he's set to change his seat and party again.
His switch has been expected for some time now, especially given the BJP's instability in Uttarakhand in the past one year or so and his differences with Trivendra Rawat. One section of the BJP is also hoping that if the party comes back to power in Uttarakhand, it would sideline some of the lateral entrants that came into the party from the Congress.
WHAT NEXT FOR HARAK SINGH RAWAT?
The Congress is naturally in two minds regarding Harak Singh Rawat's induction, especially given the 2016 rebellion.
One line of thinking in the party is that Uttarakhand is heading for a touch-and-go result and any additional seats that can shift or any additional support that the Congress can receive, should be welcomed.
The Congress doesn't have a strong Thakur/Rajput leader from Garhwal. Harish Rawat, the party's tallest face in the state, is a Thakur from Kumaon.
The BJP has traditionally had a sizable lead over the Congress among Garhwal's Thakurs.
On the other side, a few leaders in the party also warn that if BJP and Congress are close in terms of seats, there's nothing stopping Harak Singh Rawat from shifting again.
A related dilemma for the Congress is that if it does indeed bring him in, how many seats should be alloted to him and his supporters?
The BJP has alleged that Rawat wanted a ticket for his daugther-in-law from Lansdowne.
In the Congress, Rawat is said to have expressed his desire to contest from Doiwala, which would place him against former BJP CM Trivendra Singh Rawat.
With both of them having a base in Pauri Garhwal, the rivalry between the two Rawats is well known.
In some ways, this would come at an opportune time for the Congress because Doiwala is one of the seats which has become a bone of contention between Harish Rawat and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh.
It won't be an easy decision for the Congress. Harish Rawat is said to have agreed to let "bygones be bygones".
The BJP's suspension of Harak Singh Rawat has also diminished his bargaining power.
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