<p>A man who loves food and films can’t possibly be a wily politician. And Vijay Bahuguna, 65, who’s just taken over as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand is not. Which is probably why it took Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s personal intervention to make him Uttarakhand Chief Minister, snatching the plum from the fingers of Union Minister Harish Rawat, just as he thought he was going to pop it into his mouth.
Yes, Bahuguna belongs to Uttarakhand but he would be the first to admit that his circle of friends and admirers is largely in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh which is where his father Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna did his politics. Initially, Vijay turned away from politics, opting for law and later rose to become a judge in the Allahabad High Court.
The legal fraternity in Allahabad is close-knit and looks after its own. Bahuguna has the reputation of being a good person in the basic sense of believing in fair play and justice and having unshakeable faith in the rule of law.
Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of Air India, is Bahuguna’s first cousin. Nandan told agencies that Bahuguna was largely a “pious soul who is at home with his food and films. He is a foodie and loves being himself”, he says. Sister Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who heads the Congress in UP confirmed: “My brother is indeed a foodie, a pucca non-vegetarian who loves to dig into white meat.” He hates being called by his pet name ‘Guddu’ (understandable for a man who is 65). (His sister informed Business Standard that this is not a new trait. Vijay has hated being called Guddu since he was 16 and would simply not respond to the name when he was younger.)
When Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna died, it fell on Vijay to keep the family together. “Yes, Vijay bhai is just two years eight months older but has been a father figure for me. He has never been found wanting in his duties as a brother. His wife Sudha is an added support,” Rita Bahuguna said.
In the early 1980s, Bahuguna was transferred to the Bombay high court from Allahabad. However, he abruptly quit as judge in 1988 and joined active politics. His father wasn’t himself after he was defeated at the hands of Bollywood mega star Amitabh Bachchan in 1984 from Allahabad and could not regain his stature in politics. The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister tried to set up the Democratic Socialist Party but this failed to take off.
Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna’s politics was based on anti-Congressism. But his son saw no reason to have an adversarial relationship with the party. After his father’s death in 1989, Vijay Bahuguna joined the Congress. In the 1991 general elections, Bahuguna was the favourite to get a Congress ticket from Pauri-Garhwal constituency. At that time, Vijay’s first cousin, Gen BC Khanduri also wanted to contest from Pauri on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket: he thought the opposition legacy of Bahuguna’s politics should go to the BJP.
Khanduri is on record as admitting that he would not have contested from the Pauri parliamentary seat in 1991 had Vijay Bahuguna got the Congress ticket. Call it an irony of fate that Bahuguna did not get the congress ticket following which Khanduri jumped into politics and won from the Pauri seat. Khanduri now takes pride in admitting that he came to politics due to a quirk of fate that featured a denial of a ticket by Congress to his cousin Vijay. When Khanduri went to the stage to greet the new chief minister soon after the swearing-in ceremony this week, the move was seen as a gesture of brotherly affection from an outgoing chief minister.
After 1991, Bahuguna managed to get Congress tickets and contested from constituencies like Pauri and Tehri but he faced a string of defeats. Bahuguna finally came into prominence in the 2002 assembly elections when a couple of his supporters entered Vidhan Sabha. This raised his political status considerably in the hill state. He was made vice-chairman of the state planning commission by the then-chief minister ND Tiwari.
In 2007, Maharaja of Tehri, Manvendra Shah, who had the distinction of winning the Tehri seat for several decades, died forcing a by-election. Congress again put their faith in Bahuguna, who this time around faced Manujendra Shah, son of Manvendra Shah. But this time, Bahuguna won by a narrow margin.
In 2009, Bahuguna won the Tehri seat again. And in the assembly elections this time, the strength of Bahuguna-supported MLAs increased considerably in the state assembly, a factor which also helped him to get the post of chief minister.
Although only a handful of Congress MLAs attended his swearing-in ceremony, this should not be seen as an index of Bahuguna’s acceptability. He will provide intelligent and transparent administration to this hill state.