Other States

Uttarakhand sting video a setback to Congress

The surfacing of a sting operation video which has put Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat at the centre of controversy over alleged liquor deals has proved to be a setback for the Congress.

The video shows Mr. Rawat’s Secretary Mohammad Shahid allegedly fixing a liquor trade deal with a dealer. When the video surfaced on Wednesday, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman criticised the Congress rule in Uttarakhand and demanded that Mr. Rawat resign. According to the Chief Minister, the allegations are “baseless” and “the BJP is desperate to shift focus from its Ministers who are facing serious allegations.”

The scope of earnings from liquor deals in Uttarakhand can be gauged by the fact that for the current year, the State government has set a revenue collection target of Rs 1,800 crore from liquor trade.

Mr. Rawat, who became Chief Minister when the position of the Congress was dwindling at the Centre, managed to keep the party strong in Uttarakhand. Under him, the Congress did lose all five Lok Sabha seats to the BJP last year, but his government has won all by-elections to Assembly. Led by him, the Congress attained a majority — 36 MLAs in the 70-member Vidhan Sabha.

In the past, allegations have also been raised against BJP leaders including former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Maj. Gen. (Retd) B.C. Khanduri for handing over liquor business to controversial liquor baron Ponty Chadha.

Leader of the Opposition Ajay Bhatt said, “The Harish Rawat government is involved in several malpractices. There are reports about [alleged] corruption in relief and rescue efforts during the 2013 Uttarakhand disaster; crime in Uttarakhand is on the rise, [alleged] frauds in tender distributions have come to the fore, and now there is video proof of [alleged] scam in liquor trade.”

In May the financial irregularities by officials handling relief and rescue works during the disaster got exposed via Right to Information queries. Though the BJP demanded a CBI enquiry into the matter, Mr. Rawat asked Uttarakhand Chief Secretary N. Ravi Shanker to head a committee which would bring out a detailed report on the issue.

The Chief Secretary, in his report, gave a clean chit to the officials who had allegedly indulged in over-billing during the rescue and relief operations.

“How can we expect a Chief Secretary to give a negative report on the current government,” Mr. Bhatt said.

Though the BJP voices allegations against the Rawat government, it is weak in the State and has no strong leadership to match him.

Mr. Rawat, who is from a village in Almora, started as a Gram Pradhan and rose to become a member of the Seventh Lok Sabha in 1980. Ever since Uttarakhand gained statehood in the year 2000, Mr. Rawat was struggling to become Chief Minister. After a long delay, Mr. Rawat’s quest ended in February last year when he replaced Congress leader Vijay Bahuguna to become the eighth Chief Minister of Uttarakhand.

Mr. Rawat is one of the few Congress leaders who emerged stronger even when the party was on tenterhooks at the Centre. However, with several allegations against the Rawat government, his opponents see him as a shrewd politician rather than a successful Chief Minister.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 4:09:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/uttarakhand-sting-video-on-liquor-deals/article7467236.ece

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