Uttarakhand: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be facing a problem of plenty in Uttarakhand. There are at least half-a-dozen former BJP chief ministers waiting in the wings — excluding Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, whose protégé, Pushkar Singh Dhami, became the 20-year-old state’s 10th CM in July last year.
With the leadership crisis — the BJP changed two CMs in four months last year — becoming a poll issue in Uttarakhand, the ruling party is going overboard not to allow Dhami’s predecessors to overshadow him.
And thus, these former CMs are largely missing from the BJP’s publicity material, not getting many invitations to campaigns for candidates, nor finding a place in the party’s social media campaign either. They have been reduced to campaigning in their own constituencies and are also not being actively involved in overall campaigning.
The idea, a BJP functionary says, is to keep the focus entirely on Chief Minister Dhami and not allow any space to other aspirants. Some other BJP leaders even claim there has not been much demand from the candidates for these leaders, despite their inclusion in the official list of star campaigners.
“There are 70 seats in Uttarakhand and former CMs aren’t getting to campaign in even 10,” added a party source.
Trivendra Singh Rawat
Trivendra Singh Rawat, who was dropped as state CM in March last year, had requested the central leadership of the BJP not to field him in the assembly elections. He had also said he wanted to devote his time to ensure that the BJP returns to power under Dhami’s leadership.
He has thus restricted himself to campaigning, especially in Doiwala, the seat he held in the outgoing assembly, from where Brij Bhushan Gairola is now contesting.
ThePrint visited several areas in Uttarakhand and found that Rawat attended a number of programmes in Doiwala, which is adjacent to Dehradun and Rishikesh.
“Contrary to what he wanted to showcase, Rawat was asked not to contest the elections and the party wanted the focus to be only on Dhami. He managed to get his close aide a ticket and he spends most of his time doing door-to-door campaigning and corner meetings mostly for him. In fact, he is not being invited to campaign in other parts,” said a senior BJP leader.
A senior BJP leader told ThePrint that Rawat was still invited by a few candidates to campaign for them. He campaigned in Srinagar seat, from where his former cabinet colleague, Dhan Singh Rawat, is seeking a mandate for the second time.
Besides this, Rawat also addressed a few meetings in Dehradun Cantt, Rajpur Road and Sahaspur assembly segments of Dehradun district, and Ranipur and Haridwar Urban seats in Haridwar district. He also addressed virtual meetings for Lansdowne, Karnprayag and Vikasnagar segments.
Trivendra Rawat played down his absence from the poll campaign. “We were unable to visit the far hill areas mainly because of continuous bad weather and Election Commission restrictions owing to the Covid pandemic. But efforts are on to cover as many areas as possible in the time left for the polls,” the former CM told ThePrint.
Tirath Singh Rawat, Nishank and Khanduri
Tirath Singh Rawat, who had replaced Trivendra only to make way for Dhami within four months, is a BJP MP from Garhwal. He is focusing only on the assembly segments under his constituency.
“Tirath Singh Rawat has been holding small meetings and other election programmes in his parliamentary constituency. There has been no proper election management this time and hence they (senior leaders) have not been kept in the loop and are restricting themselves to their own areas,” a party leader said on the condition of anonymity.
“Even in the publicity material, senior leaders and former chief ministers were earlier given space but not this time. The entire focus is on CM Dhami.”
Another senior BJP leader told ThePrint that it is the first time that senior leaders have not found adequate space in the election campaign. “If you look at the official Twitter handle, you would hardly find tweets related to former CMs,” said a leader.
Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is another former Uttarakhand CM, who was dropped from the Union Cabinet in July last year. He was learnt to harbour ambitions to return to the CM’s chair, but was beaten to it first by Tirath Singh and then by Dhami.
Nishank represents the Haridwar parliamentary constituency. “He has campaigned for assembly segments under his constituency such as Ranipur and Dharampur, among others. He has also not been keeping well, so that is also one of the reasons behind not being visible too much in the election campaign,” said the unnamed leader cited above.
Another party leader told ThePrint that another former chief minister, B.C. Khanduri, has not been very active in the poll campaign owing to his poor health and age.
However, his daughter Ritu Khanduri, who is a BJP candidate from Kotdwar, is expected to hold a couple of meetings before campaigning comes to an end on 12 February.
Similar is the situation with Khanduri’s successor Vijay Bahuguna, who is mostly spending time in Sitarganj, where the BJP has fielded his son Saurav Bahuguna for the second time. Vijay Bahuguna also addressed a public meeting in favour of the party candidate in Nanakmatta constituency.
An uphill task
The BJP has given the slogan of “abki baar 60 paar” (this time, cross 60) in the 70-member assembly, but many in the party admit privately that getting a clear majority might be a challenging task, pointing out that the 2022 elections are becoming a contest between individual candidates rather than the party.
The BJP had won the 2017 assembly elections in Uttarakhand with a huge majority, securing 57 seats. However, infighting has become a major headache for the party.
“Pichli baar ek lehar thi. Modi ke naam par kachche khiladi bhi jeet gaye the (the previous time there was a Modi wave and even inexperienced candidates had won). This time too, we are highlighting brand Modi. But people have started differentiating between Modi and state elections. We still hope welfare work done by the Modi government especially during the pandemic will help in these polls,” said another leader.
The leadership crisis in the BJP is something that the Congress has been raising this election. In March last year, Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned as Uttarakhand CM after almost four years in office, following mounting pressure on the BJP leadership to remove him, owing to his “uninspiring leadership” and alleged lack of control on the state’s administration.
Many in the party had feared that this could hurt the BJP’s prospects in the 2022 elections. Tirath Singh Rawat, who replaced him, had to leave less than four months into his tenure. A Lok Sabha MP when he was made CM, Tirath Rawat needed to get elected to the state assembly before 10 September 2021 to retain his post.
BJP then brought in 46-year-old Dhami, who had not even held the post of a minister before becoming chief minister.
“Aware of the situation, the central leadership ensured that former chief ministers were not fielded, including Trivendra Singh Rawat, to ensure that once we win, former chief ministers and senior leaders would not be able to stake claim,” said a senior leader.
However, some in the party’s state unit feel that the former chief ministers who have been sidelined are in fact damaging the party’s interest.
“Right now is the time to be united and fight the elections. But there are so many camps that handling them itself is a task. They end up giving contrary statements which becomes embarrassing for the party. We are still in a better position and are confident of crossing the halfway mark,” said another leader.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Source: The Print