He came close to becoming the Uttarakhand Chief Minister when the Congress was voted to power in the first Assembly elections held in 2002. A decade later, as the Congress seeks to regain power from the BJP, Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Harish Rawat, who represents Haridwar in Parliament, shares with Sandeep Joshi his party's strategy for the polls and vision for the State.
What are the key poll issues on which the Congress is focusing?
The BJP government has failed miserably on three key fronts — development, checking corruption and administration. Corruption reached its peak during the BJP rule. Money, meant for development projects, was swindled while the people suffered. The unceremonious removal of its Chief Minister is a clear proof of it. The State witnessed total collapse in administration that affected its development. There were regular transfers. There was lack of confidence in the bureaucracy. The government could not fill around 50,000 vacant posts in various departments. As a result of this, bureaucracy, with depleted staff strength, failed to perform.
What is the Congress going to do if voted to power?
Our top priority will be education, particularly technical education, besides agriculture and infrastructure development. For agriculture, we need solutions to provide water for agriculture, particularly in hilly areas. We will promote horticulture, poultry and dairy industry to provide employment to the rural youth. We will set up a food park in the Kumaon region. We will ensure that industrial growth is not hampered.
The BJP alleges that the Congress is not serious in dealing with corruption?
Ironically, the party levelling these charges today finds itself neck-deep in corruption. The fact is that the Lokayukta Bill passed by the BJP government in Uttarakhand has no teeth. On the other hand we tried to bring in a strong Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in Parliament; we wanted to give constitutional status to the Lokpal as proposed by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. But instead of supporting the Congress, the BJP tried to derail the entire process, which was witnessed by entire nation.
There is still no clarity on who will lead the government if the party is voted to power.
Our leader Sonia Gandhi will decide on the matter and all party leaders will follow her decision as disciplined soldiers.