Rita not first 'Bahuguna' to rebel; 3 generations of family have earlier ditched Congress

By: Ayaz Farooqui
Updated: 07 Nov 2016 07:12 PM
NEW DELHI: It is a story of a family three generations of which have turned Congress rebels at different times.

Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna was the first, walking out on Indira Gandhi in 1977 and again in 1980 after a short-lived return.

His son Vijay Bahuguna, who turned dissident after being replaced with Harish Rawat as Uttarakhand chief minister in 2014, was accused of engineering the Uttarakhand Congress split.

Vijay's son Saket, 42, led the rebels who made public a purported sting operation against Rawat in New Delhi, alleging the chief minister had offered them money to strike a deal. The party had later expelled Saket.

And today, months ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, HN Bahuguna's daughter and Vijay's sister, Rita Bahuguna Joshi joined the BJP in the presence of party chief Amit Shah.

Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna:

Hemvati Nandan was appointed Union communications minister in 1971 after winning a Lok Sabha election from Allahabad and became Uttar Pradesh chief minister in 1973. But Indira asked him to step down in 1975 on the charge of insubordination.

Bahuguna, who belonged to Pauri Garhwal, left the Congress in 1977 and joined the Congress for Democracy, formed by Jagjivan Ram. Banking on the people of the hills, he had famously said: "Himalaya can break but cannot bow."

Congress for Democracy allied with the Janata Party to defeat the Congress, and Bahuguna was elected from Lucknow. But 18 months later, he returned to the Congress with another famous quip: " Bhanje ne mama ko mana liya hai (The nephew has placated the uncle)."

The obvious allusion was to Sanjay Gandhi, Indira's all-powerful younger son. Bahuguna was appointed a party general secretary.

The "uncle" won from the Garhwal Lok Sabha seat in 1980 but left the "nephew" again when he was refused a ministry. He was re-elected from Garhwal the same year as a Janata Party candidate.

Bahuguna returned to Allahabad in 1984 to contest the Lok Sabha election as a Lok Dal nominee. But an alert Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay's elder brother, pitted actor Amitabh Bachchan against him.

Amitabh's supporters coined a famous slogan: "Natwar fansa shikanje me, vote padega panje pe (Natwar is caught in a mesh; the votes will fall on the hand)."

Bahuguna's critics called him "the Natwarlal of Indian politics". Natwarlal was a legendary conman whom, ironically, Amitabh had played in the 1979 Bollywood film Mr Natwarlal. The "hand" was the Congress symbol.

Bahuguna apparently never recovered from the shock of a defeat by 187,000 votes at the hands of a " nachnewala" (a disparaging word for a professional dancer). His health deteriorated and he died in 1989 during an unsuccessful coronary bypass surgery in the US.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi:

Rita was in the Congress before she left to join the Samajwadi Party that appointed her mayor of Allahabad, her hometown, in 1995.

She later returned to the Congress and went on to helm the state party.

67-year-old Rita was said to be unhappy with the Congress leadership over projection of Sheila Dikshit as the party’s chief ministerial face and felt increasingly marginalised since Raj Babbar was made the UP party chief.

She believes she had better credentials to be projected as a Brahmin chief ministerial face than Dikshit. She also faced a tough electoral prospect as Congress candidate in the coming state elections.

Sources said Rita was "disillusioned" with party chief Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for announcing Sheila Dikshit as the Congress's chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh, "overlooking" her "claims".

Elections are due in the state early next year.

Rita had apparently first tapped the ruling Samajwadi Party to see if she could go back to the party on the "promise" of a berth in the legislative council. When there was no response, she tapped the BJP, sources said.

Vijay Bahuguna:

Rita's brother Vijay became Uttarakhand chief minister in 2012 but was replaced by Harish Rawat in 2014 following charges of mismanagement during a flood rescue operation the previous year.

Since then, he had not passed up any chance to criticise his own party's chief minister. He eventually split the Congress with the help of eight other rebel MLAs earlier this year.

The Congress leadership had tried to keep Vijay in good humour and agreed to his demand to field Saket from the Tehri Lok Sabha seat during a 2012 by-election and again in the 2014 general election. He lost both times.

When Vijay revolted, the Congress had asked his sister Rita Bahuguna Joshi, a senior Uttar Pradesh leader, to contain him. She agreed, after clarifying the siblings had never before interfered in each other's political careers.

But as she was about to meet Vijay, news came that the Congress had expelled Vijay's son Saket. Rita refused to carry out her mandate.

Vijay, after joining hands with BJP, has been inducted into the saffron party's National Executive.

Saket Bahuguna:

Vijay's son Saket Bahuguna, a two-time Lok Sabha candidate from Tehri, was among the nine legislators who rebelled against Harish Rawat's government.

Considering the activities of Saket, who was a two-time Lok Sabha candidate from Tehri seat as “anti-party”, the Congress party expelled him for six years.

According to his 2014 election affidavit, Saket is chief legal officer with the Indiabulls group.

(With inputs from The Telegraph Calcutta)