Four former chief ministers and equal number of aspirants for the top job have created a problem of plenty for the BJP in Uttarakhand.
Assembly polls in the hill state to elect a new government are scheduled for March 2017, but the BJP is concerned about the lack of a ‘face’ to project as the leader even as Congress chief minister Harish Rawat consolidates his position.
BJP president Amit Shah met the core group of the party in Uttarakhand here on Monday, asking them to pull up their socks for next year’s battle. Unhappy with the level of the party’s preparedness, Shah has asked states leaders to scale up efforts, sources said.
Shah and others are worried that Rawat has managed to project himself as the victim of BJP’s ‘power politics’ and has laid the blame for all controversies dogging his government at the doors of Congress rebels who are now with the BJP. Rawat has lodged cases against nine Congress MLAs who quit the party and joined the BJP in May.
BJP leaders concede that Rawat has not suffered not much despite nine Congress MLAs quitting, three sting operations against him and a growing dissent in his party.
The BJP now plans to launch an offensive against him. A parivartan yatra, conferences of scheduled caste communities and other programmes have been finalized to make the BJP battle-ready. Dates for these programmes will be announced shortly.
But the challenge to find a CM candidate continues to trouble Shah.
“It’s a problem of plenty. There are too many aspirants and Shah fears projecting anyone of them could add to factionalism in divided state unit,” a leader who attended the Monday meeting told HT.
Maj. Gen (Retd) BC Khanduri who was also the party’s candidate for the top post in 2012 election but lost from Kotdwar, is the seniormost of the four former chief ministers angling to return as head of government. Now an MP from Garhwal, the 81-year-old is on the wrong side of the BJP’s age bar for any leadership role.
Another former chief minister and Nainital MP Bhagat Singh Koshyari, headed the state government for three months between 2001 and 2002. A prominent Thakur leader from Kumaon region, he is approaching 75. He is active, but considered ‘not suited’ for power politics that a government formation exercise would require.
Haridwar MP Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishak, also a former chief minister, the 57-year-old ticks the right box in the age category but doesn’t enjoy the backing of the BJP top brass. He is youngest of the three chief ministers that the BJP had in Uttarakhand.
Nishank was a three-term member of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assemblies. Appointed Uttarakhand CM in 2009, he was removed in 2011 and is now a Lok Sabha MP from Haridwar.
Former Congress CM Vijay Bahuguna and two-time MP, who joined the BJP just over three months ago after leading a failed rebellion against Rawat, also nurses ambitions of heading the government again. But projecting him as chief ministerial candidate is likely to trigger opposition from the local leadership.
Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, 56-year-old Ajay Bhatt who is also the president of BJP’s Uttarakhand unit is another contender for the CM’s post. A former cabinet minister in the last BJP government, Bhatt represents Ranikhet constituency in the state assembly.
The relatively lesser known Anil Baluni is also in the race. Now a BJP national spokesperson, Baluni had lost out to Bhatt in the fight to become the party’s Uttarakhand chief. A young face, Baluni is considered close to the BJP president.