Uttarakhand: Tussle in Congress for state president and leader of opposition posts

It is almost a month since the Uttarakhand poll results were declared, but the largest Opposition party in the state, Congress, has not yet nominated a leader of opposition (LoP) or chosen a candidate to head its state unit.

If the grapevine has to be believed, intra-party tussle and lobbying by various groups have prevented the Congress high command from taking a call on the issue.

Notably, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had asked the PCC chiefs of all five states, including Uttarakhand, that went to the polls recently to resign in order to facilitate the reorganisation of the state units.

Sources further said that by delaying a decision on the two posts, the party was also trying to avert the possibility of a disgruntled Congress MLA vacating his/her seat for BJP Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who lost to his Congress rival in the Khatima seat.

In the recently held Assembly polls, the BJP won 47 seats in the 70-member House. Whereas the Congress won 19 seats and the BSP and Independents bagged two seats each.

Bucking the usual trend in the state, the BJP became the first ruling party to be voted back to power in Uttarakhand. Incumbent CM Dhami, however, lost the Khatima seat to Congress candidate Bhuwan Chandra Kapri by 6,579 votes.

The saffron party, though, reposed its faith in Dhami, making him the chief minister once again. However, to continue in office, Dhami needs to get elected to the Assembly within six months since he took over as the CM for the second time.

“A final decision on the two posts will take more time. The decision is to be made by the top party leadership and, as of now, we do not have any names for the posts,” said Congress general secretary (organisation) Mathura Dutt Joshi.

According to sources in the Congress, the three main contenders for the posts are former LoP Pritam Singh, senior leader Yashpal Arya who left the BJP before the elections to join the Congress, and Bhuwan Chandra Kapri.

While Singh is said to be leading the LoP race, Kapri is considered a favourite for the post of the state president. Yashpal Arya is also being considered for the state party president’s post; however, he appears to be more interested in becoming the LoP, the sources added. All three, however, have publicly denied staking any claim to the said posts.

Meanwhile, talking to indianexpress.com, BJP spokesperson Shadab Shams said that Dhami will contest from a ‘safe’ seat.

“The possible seats include Champawat seat, which has been won by our candidate Kailash Chandra Gahtori, or the Lalkuan seat where BJP candidate Mohan Singh Bisht defeated Congress heavyweight Harish Rawat. Another seat could be Dehradun Cantt or Rudrapur. In Lalkuan, Rawat was defeated by a margin of over 17,000 votes. Bisht has already offered the seat and if the CM contests there, he will easily win,” he said.

“In simple terms, we can say that Dhami will contest from a seat where the organisation is strong or the margin of our victory was significantly higher. We also don’t want the CM to contest from a constituency that is either dominated by the Muslims or Dalits. There are seats where we always win. We will choose a seat where people vote for the BJP,” Shams added.

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