AFTER a 54-day high voltage drama, the Harish Rawat government has been reinstated in Uttarakhand. In this phase of “firsts” that the country is witnessing, it can also be said that Harish Rawat is the first Chief Minister to become Chief Minister thrice in a single term. This whole episode started on 18 March when, during the budget session of the Assembly, 9 legislators of the ruling Congress party demanded a vote on the budget. Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal rejected their demand and declared the budget passed by voice vote.
The 9 Congress legislators (one of whom was Harak Singh Rawat, a Cabinet Minister) met the Governor along with the Opposition BJP and claimed that the Harish Rawat government had lost its majority. Governor Dr KK Pal asked Harish Rawat to prove his majority by 28 March. Meanwhile there surfaced a sting of Harish Rawat talking to a regional news channel owner Umesh Kumar which created quite a sensation in the entire matter. On the basis of this sting the Governor dissolved the Uttarakhand government and imposed President’s rule on 27 March, one day before the date fixed for proving Rawat’s majority. Harish Rawat went to the High Court, Nainital against this.
The High Court, first through a single bench and then through a double bench presided over by the Chief Justice, citing the SR Bommai and other cases, directed that only a floor test in the Assembly could decide the majority or minority of a government. The Central government went to the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict and after the Supreme Court upheld the HC verdict the floor test was held in the Assembly. The Supreme Court did not allow the 9 rebel Congress legislators to vote in the floor test. Earlier, the High Court in Nainital had already upheld the Speaker’s decision to cancel the membership of these 9 legislators under the Anti-Defection Law. Both the Congress and the BJP saw fresh ‘rebellion’ during the floor test: Congress legislator from Someshwar Rekha Arya voted with the BJP while BJP legislator from Dhansali Bhimlal Arya voted with the Congress.
This episode once again exposes the BJP’s greed for power by hook or crook. The party which flaunts the slogan “Chaal, Charitra, Chehra” (behaviour, character, and face) has shown clearly that it can play any tricks for power, it is completely characterless in its attempts to grab power, and its true face has been fully unmasked. They could not even wait for 6 months when elections in the State would have been duly held, and imposed President’s rule just one day prior to the floor test ordered by the Governor. Prime Minister Modi came to Delhi especially for this decision from his busy election schedule in Assam. The BJP brought in national Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya to facilitate its back-door entry into power in the State. The way in which they took the rebel MLAs out of the State by special chartered flight shows that they are willing to go to any limits to capture power.
This entire political game was not a fight for any principles or convictions, but an example of the kind of corrupt, unprincipled politics espoused by both Congress and BJP. Upheavals within the Congress were going on for the past 3 months. Harish Rawat not only headed the government; his people had taken complete control over loot of land, mining, and liquor. The rebellion of the Congress legislators was actually against this centralization of power and loot in the Harsh Rawat camp. The whole fight was for a share in the loot of Uttarakhand’s resources, of which the liquor business is an important part. Harish Rawat had come out openly in support of a particular liquor company, against which the other liquor companies went to the High Court and appointed senior Congress leader P Chidambaram as their lawyer against the Uttarakhand government. According to the facts presented in the court by the liquor companies, Harish Rawat had brought down their sales from 61% to 2% in order to benefit a particular company. It is very possible that the liquor businessmen had made ‘investments’ within the government to create rebellion against the government which was proving harmful to their business. This does not seem impossible or far-fetched, considering the connections between the liquor mafia and Uttarakhand politics. It is to be remembered that Sukhdev Singh Namdhari, who was the Minorities Commission Chairman during the BJP rule in Uttarakhand, has been in jail since 2010 on the charge of murdering liquor baron Ponty Chaddha. That episode was also connected to the liquor business.
Two stings that have come up during this affair appear to unmask Harish Rawat. The people who carried out the stings are not clean and spotless; rather, they are themselves controversial. However, the manner in which the sting shows Harish Rawat saying that he would ‘close his eyes’ while the legislator could earn 20-30 crores from his Ministership in return for support to the government shows that Rawat might talk sweet, but his politics are dirty. In the second sting, Congress MLA from Dwarahat Madan Bisht is openly giving details of how many lakhs were paid to which legislator by Harish Rawat as ‘chai-paani’ (a euphemism for bribe).
The past and present of the 9 MLAs, the stage managers of the attempt to pull down the government, is quite controversial. There is no controversy in the State which is not connected in some way or other to Harak Singh Rawat, the leader of the rebellion. As Minister in the ND Tiwari government he was connected to the Patwari appointments scam. A woman called Jenny claimed that her child was Harak Singh’s; he even had to resign from the Cabinet in the Jenny episode. In his present tenure also he has been notorious for appointing his protégés. A person from his personal staff was murdered last year and the woman who is the chief accused in the case has claimed close relations with Harak Singh. Another personage who has rebelled against Harish Rawat is Vijay Bahuguna; the son of former Chief Minister late Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, he has been a former Union Minister as a former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. His insensitive behaviour during the 2013 disaster was widely spoken about. When he was sworn in as Chief Minister during an earlier government, it was widely believed that a large corporate house had spent 600 crores to make him Chief Minister.
Currently Harish Rawat is back in power and there is no change in his functioning. In his very first Cabinet meeting it was decided that fees for stone crusher owners will be reduced, permission for stone crushers need be taken once in 5 years instead of every year, and the permitting authority will be the DM and not the government; these decisions make it clear where his commitment lies. Clearly, the ‘hand’ of the government is with the mining and land mafia. The second decision taken by the Cabinet was to take back the notification for a CBI enquiry into the Harish Rawat sting and declare an SIT enquiry instead. It is ridiculous that an agency under the Chief Minister will enquire into serious charges levelled against the Chief Minister. This decision only confirms the corrupt nature of Harish Rawat’s conduct.
Uttarakhand has become a State caught in the vicious cycle of the Congress and the BJP. The dreams the people nurtured during the struggle for a separate State have all crumbled with these two parties taking turns to come to power again and again. What can be a greater irony than having to choose an option to save democracy in the midst of such corrupt, degenerate politics!
THE Uttarakhand police tried to abduct AICCTU’s Uttarakhand General Secretary KK Bora from the Labour Office premises on 19 May, but were prevented from doing so by workers’ resistance. The next day, there was a murderous attack on KK Bora by management-sponsored goons.
Harish Rawat, the CM of Uttarakhand, is celebrating the ‘victory of democracy’ in the State, after the Courts defeated an attempted coup by the BJP. But when it comes to industrial democracy, is Congress-ruled Uttarakhand any different from BJP-ruled states? Where is democracy if a labour leader can be nearly killed on a public street in broad daylight – and the police try to arrest, not the would-be murderers or their sponsors, but the labour leader himself?
MINDA is a factory producing switch gear, in the Pantnagar SIDCUL industrial area in Rudrapur. Workers formed a Union here, and three workers were thrown out of their jobs for their role in the Union. To protest this illegal act, workers of MINDA held a candle-light march in Haldwani that ended at Ambedkar Chowk. Haldwani is at a considerable distance from the SIDCUL. But when workers came to the factory the next morning ,they found a notice by the MINDA management at the gate, naming 18 workers as being debarred from entering the factory premises for participating in the candle-light march!
We must remember that according to the Labour Code of Industrial Relations Bill 2015 that the Modi Government is trying to enact, ‘outsiders’ cannot be members of Unions. This will mean that in a place like SIDCUL, not only will labour leaders like KK Bora be debarred from leading Unions, workers who unionise will be turned into ‘outsiders’ by being dismissed!
Workers challenged this action in the Labour Office, and on 19 May, a tripartite discussion was fixed between the MINDA workers and management at the Labour Office. KK Bora was present from AICCTU. But the MINDA management did not turn up. Instead, the Rudrapur police turned up and tried to forcibly arrest/abduct K K Bora. When asked to show a warrant or summons, the police, lacking these legal documents, instead resorted to using brute force. In the face of strong opposition from the MINDA workers, the police were unable to arrest Comrade K K Bora and had to return empty-handed.
This attempt to arrest a labour leader during tripartite talks reveals the connivance between the MINDA management and the Uttarakhand Government and police. KK Bora is a well-respected labour leader and is well-known for his struggles for workers’ rights. Such behavior by the police against him raises several questions. The State Government and Labour Minister have constantly sided with industrialists and factory owners, and SIDCUL has turned into a veritable graveyard for labour laws. Young men and women are being made to work for amounts far below the minimum wages, unionising is punished with dismissal, and attempts are being made to muzzle voices which speak out against this.
The very next day, KK Bora was attacked by MINDA factory goons. He was traveling in a tempo; the goons approached in an unnumbered white Scorpio car, stopped the tempo, made the passengers alight, and beat up Comrade KK Bora. Some of the passengers spoke up for him, and they were beaten up too - a minor girl has also been injured in the process. The attack was definitely murderous – the assailants hit him with big sticks. Comrade KK Bora very courageously protected his head and took most of the attack on his arms and body, and this is why he could save his own life. A crowd that collected at the spot also caused the assailants to flee eventually.
On 23 May, protests were held all over Uttarakhand against this murderous attack on KK Bora.
The Congress Govt and police of Uttarakhand need to answer - why aren't violent, murderous goons of industry managements being arrested, why is the police trying to arrest labour leaders instead - that too during tripartite talks?