The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has once again reposed its faith in the Tehri royal family for the Tehri Parliamentary seat election in Uttarakhand. For the Lok Sabha by-election from Tehri, scheduled to be held on 10 October, the BJP has chosen Maharani Mala Rajlakshmi Shah as their candidate. After obtaining formal approval from the BJP President, Nitin Gadkari on the proposal of the state BJP, General Secretary and BJP Central Election Committee Secretary Ananth Kumar made a formal declaration of the Maharani’s candidature. The Congress party which is in power in Uttarakhand, chose to continue with the family tradition and has selected Saket Bahuguna, the grandson of the late Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, as their candidate for the by-election. In fact, in a programme held at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna had already given an indication that his son would be the candidate. However, he had added that the declaration of the candidate would be made only after Sonia Gandhi returned from her trip abroad. It may be recalled that after winning the Sitarganj Legislative Assembly seat, Vijay Bahuguna had resigned from as a Member of Parliament, resulting in the vacancy of the Tehri parliamentary seat.
The late Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna was a leader who espoused a socialist ideology. He strongly opposed the nepotism prevailing in the Congress at that time and that was one of the reasons for his becoming a stone in the eye for Indira Gandhi. But the same Bahuguna family can now be seen matching their steps with that of the Gandhi-Nehru family.
In the long drawn out run-up to declaring the candidate for the Tehri by- election, the BJP was the first among several political parties to declare the name of their candidate. Maharani Mala Rajlakshmi Shah was finalised after discussions on a panel of names sent by the state BJP. The Tehri royal family has dominated the Tehri parliamentary seat for a long time. In the 1991 Tehri elections, Maharaja Manabendra Shah won the seat on a BJP ticket for the first time, defeating the Congress. He went on to win the Tehri seat election five consecutive times. In 2004, too, when the Congress was in a dominant position elsewhere, BJP candidate Manabendra Shah won the Tehri seat. After his demise, the BJP gave the candidature for the by-election of the Tehri seat to his son Manujwendra Shah. This time, however, the Congress party candidate Vijay Bahuguna defeated the BJP candidate. The declaration of Maharaja Manabendra Shah’s sister in law and Manujwendra Shah’s wife, Maharani Mala Rajalakshmi Shah as the BJP candidate for the 10 October by-election has evoked considerable interest amongst the local population. After being declared the BJP candidate for the Tehri by-election, Maharani Mala Rajlakshmi Shah said that the party has demonstrated its faith in the royal family and in the residents of Tehri.
In the Congress camp, once the announcement for the Tehri by-election was made, lobbying started by probable, aspiring candidates. As a result it was quite natural that the Congress came under a lot of pressure to declare the name of their candidate for the by election quickly. The name of the Chief Minister’s son Saket Bahuguna was uppermost amongst the probable candidates. The Chief Minister is taking a different path from the one followed by his father, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. The Chief Minister has given a message by selecting his son as a candidate that he does not have any problem going along with nepotism. It is well known that his father Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna was a leader who espoused a socialist ideology. He strongly opposed the nepotism prevailing in the Congress at that time and that was one of the reasons for his becoming a stone in the eye for Indira Gandhi. But the same Bahuguna family can now be seen matching their steps with that of the Gandhi-Nehru family. A few statesman in the state have objected to Saket’s candidature in the Tehri Parliamentary by-election. Apart from Saket, the names of a few other senior Congress leaders along with the name of a current minister featured in the list of probable contenders. Naturally, the ticket for the by-election going to the Chief Minister’s son has disappointed the other aspirants. However, the announcement of his son as the candidate for the by-election has become a matter of pride for the Chief Minister.
In fact, the Congress High Command’s decision has delighted the Chief Minister’s entire family. After making the BJP taste defeat at the state level, it has become a challenge for the Chief Minister to make his son a Member of Parliament. Senior Congress leader and Central Minister Harish Rawat is not happy with this decision. The main reason for his unhappiness is that recently Rawat wanted his son and state President of the Youth Congress, Anand Rawat, to fight for the elections of the legislator and this was blocked by Bahuguna and the Party. The Congress party is divided on the by-election candidature, with one group favouring the decision and the other rejecting it. Rawat is taking the Congress decision as disregard towards the common workers of the Congress. All this is a clear indication that the group which is backing Saket Bahuguna as the candidate will face strong resistance from the other group which is opposed to his candidature. The Coal Scam fire had already singed the Congress and the Manmohan Singh Government. Coming close on its heels, the diesel price hike is likely to burn the Congress grieviously. The state leaders of the BJP are taking these developments as a good sign for the Maharani of Tehri. One thing is certain: it will be a most interesting battle of electoral, royal and family strengths for the throne.