'He has been made CM of Uttarakhand because everybody thinks he is not a challenge to anyone.'
Suryakant Dhasmana has helped forge successive victories for the Congress in Uttarakhand.
Dhasmana, below, has been in politics for the last 35 years, but prefers to operate from behind-the-scenes.
Speaking to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal, Dhasmana expresses confidence that Congress will succeed in winning the 2022 assembly election in the state.
How do you see the political developments unfolding in the state and do you think changing chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and bringing in Tirath Singh Rawat at this stage will help the BJP win the 2022 election?
The people in Uttarakhand in 2017 voted for the BJP on the assurances given by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
They criss-crossed the state holding one election rally after another.
Their promises had included farmers being given debt waivers, the installation of the institution of Lokaykuta within 100 days of being sworn to power as also addressing the issue of massive unemployment in our state.
Other promises given included curbing price rice, filling all vacancies in government jobs as also providing proper relief and rehabilitation measures for all the pilgrimage sites in a radius of 3,500 square kilometre area that was affected by the disastrous floods in Kedarnath in 2013.
The people of this state believed these promises and the result was that the BJP won 57 seats as against the Congress which was marginalised with a tally of 11 seats.
Let me point out that it was the Modi-Shah duo who selected Trivendra Singh Rawat to head the state and he ruled Uttarakhand for four years.
But during his tenure, he was not able to fulfil even one of the promises made by the BJP supremos.
To cite one example, vacancies in the police were not filled up and the police force here is presently working at 60 per cent capacity.
To cite another example, last year saw the entire country, rather globe, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a crucial area such as health has been totally neglected.
Presently we have 5,500 vacancies for nurses, but our state is functioning with only 1,500 nurses.
There are vacancies for 1,200 ward boys, but we are working with 175 ward boys and while there are vacancies for 500 laboratory technicians, hospitals are being forced to make do with only 150 lab boys.
The result is that a small hill state like ours saw over one lakh people infected with COVID-19 and over 1,700 deaths.
The bill for the Lokaykuta was introduced in the assembly, but has been lying in cold storage before a committee for the last four years while the number of corruption cases that have been filed in our law courts during this period have risen exponentially.
Can you imagine that the chief minister (Trivendra Singh Rawat) has received strictures from none other than the Naintal high court who ordered a CBI enquiry into corruption charges levied against him.
It is unprecedented that a sitting chief minister have a CBI enquiry held against him.
Is this the main reason why Trivendra Singh Rawat was changed at this juncture? Do you see the BJP benefitting from this change or is this an admission of defeat on the part of the BJP?
There bringing in a new CM is not going to change the situation.
Their non-performance in the last four years is staring them in their face.
Unemployment levels at 22.3 per cent are probably the highest amongst all states in the country.
This is the main reason why BJP MLAs were not willing to fight elections under Trivendra Rawat's leadership. The majority were afraid they would lose.
The BJP in our state has a record of changing their chief ministers prior to the holding of state elections and each time they have done so, they have ended up losing the election.
History will be repeated this time again.
In a short period of eight months, the BJP changed their interim chief minister Nityanand Swami in 2000 with Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and they ended up losing the first-ever election held in our state in 2002.
Again, Pokriyal Nishank was replaced by General (B C) Khanduri at the last minute in 2011 and in 2012 when elections were held, not only did the BJP lose but General Khanduri went on to lose his seat from Kotdwar.
Each time it is the Congress that has benefited from these last minute changes and we are confident that we will stand to gain this time again.
The key question is how is the newly appointed CM Tirath Singh Rawat going to tackle all these host of problems given the policy paralysis staring him in the face.
The bureaucracy here is not under their (the BJP's) control.
More important, he is going to face the problem of double anti-incumbency because the public have become extremely critical and are questioning both the Centre and at the state government over the issue of rise of prices of both petrol and diesel as also gas cylinders.
Given Tirath Singh Rawat's track record, is he in a position to inspire confidence and lead the part to success in 2022?
He was proved a failure in all responsibilities he has been given in the past.
He lost the assembly elections in both 2002 and 2007.
In 2013, he was given the responsibility of BJP head in the state, but two years later was replaced by Ajay Bhat.
But in 2019, General Khanduri retired (from politics) nd since Tirath Singh Rawat was his acolyte and disciple, the general transferred his legacy to him.
In the 2019 elections primarily because of Pulwama, he won the elections from Pauri, but he has failed to impress the people of his constituency.
He has become CM by default. He has been made CM of Uttarakhand because everybody thinks he is not a challenge to anyone.
What priority should the state government give to the environmental degradation facing the state?
I do not think this state government or the one that preceded him was at all concerned about the state's environment.
It should be a matter of crucial concern but sadly, it is not.
Do you think the decision by Trivendra Singh Rawat to take over and manage the Char Dham pilgrimage sites was an unwise move.
After all, government taking over the Tirupati shrine and the Vaishnodevi shrines has helped economically develop the entire ecosystem of these regions?
The way the former CM implemented the decision that went against him.
He did not take the stakeholders into confidence.
He had no prior dialogue with the purohits. These people should have been taken into confidence.
Are you suggesting the new CM should reverse this decision?
It will be challenging for Tirath Singh Rawat to reverse it since the decision has been passed by the assembly.
Why was this decision taken in the first place. Surely it could not have been done without clearance from the prime minister and Amit Shah?
The objective was to control these pilgrimage sites rather than to make money.
Their objective has always been to place their own key people who would look after the administration and exploit it to their advantage.
This is what they have done in all the schools and universities in our state.
But will the Congress be able to take advantage of this situation given that there is so much infighting within your party?
Infighting exists in all parties.
If it was not present in the BJP, would they have changed their leader at this stage?
Our party is gearing up to fight the coming assembly election.
We are very confident that we can channelise the public anger in or favour.
We are working towards strengthening our organisation at the grass root level.
The question is that your party does not have the ability to match the BJP both in terms of their organisational capabilities or their money power?
They always had money. This is nothing new. But when the public sentiment goes against them, there is little they can do on the ground.
What are some of the key issues the Congress is raising on the ground?
There is a great deal of anger amongst the unemployed youth.
Take the example of the 22,000 contractual labour working under Uttarkhand Purv Sainik Kalyan Nigam Ltd who have been demanding being given permanent employment for the last eight to fifteen years.
They had moved the Nainital high court which had ordered they be regularised.
This was in 2018, but the state government has moved the Supreme Court against this decision.
The farmers in the state are opposed to the anti-farm policies of both the state and central governments.
Seventeen farmers in our state have committed suicide. This has never happened before.
Congress leader Harish Rawat is demanding he should be allowed to lead the party in the 2022 election. What do you feel about this?
No doubt Harish Rawat is a senior leader of our party, but he has a negative image.
During his tenure as chief minister, he isolated some of our senior leaders who then moved to the BJP.
Who will be the Congress' chief ministerial face in the coming assembly election?
The decision on the chief minister is always taken by the Congress high command.
Meanwhile, we have several leaders including Dr Indira Hridayesh and Pritam Singh who are leading our party.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com