The BJP may be brimming with confidence in projecting B C Khanduri as its chief minister candidate and putting up a stout fight against the Congress in its bid to retain power, but the role of his predecessor, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, is giving some anxious moments to the party’s campaign managers.
It’s no secret that a sulking Nishank is upset that he was removed in September last year to make way for Khanduri and was told by the party high command to limit himself to his constituency, Doiwala, for campaigning because the Congress bigwigs are harping on his sullied tenure.
BJP insiders, however, say Nishank’s key men are busy working against some official BJP nominees in key constituencies in support of their rivals. In fact, a recent report about his supporters allegedly reaching an understanding with those of senior Congress leader Harish Rawat at a hotel rendezvous has sent alarm bells ringing in the official BJP camp.
Some party managers fear the role of money power to ‘destabilise’ some candidates because the race has got too close for comfort to both the sides. A loss of three or four seats could tilt the balance in the state, which has a 70-member House, a BJP aide pointed out.
Nishank was given BJP ticket much to the displeasure of the RSS brass, which has not hidden its displeasure at the corruption charges levelled during his tenure in office. On his part, Nishank too has been promising to the party high command his “full cooperation.” Even his pictures have been used in the BJP campaign materials, along with, of course, Khanduri who is hogging the limelight.
A version doing the rounds is that many of Nishank’s supporters apprehend ‘witch hunt’ if Khanduri is back in office and therefore may want the rivals to win as they could be more ‘lenient.’ This is notwithstanding the fact that AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi has blamed Nishank for squandering R620 crore allocated for Mahakumbh, saying, “the BJP had to replace Nishank with Khanduri to cover up its scams over the years. Just by changing CMs your scams are not buried.”
Earlier, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had questioned the BJP’s effort to take the high moral ground over corruption by flaunting the appointment of a ‘clean’ Khanduri as chief minister.
In response, Gadakari had defended Nishank, saying that “he has not been indicted in any case whether it relates to land use changes pertaining to Citurgia (chemical factory based in Rishikesh) or the distribution of hydropower projects among outsiders.”
But Nishank has not drawn comfort from Gadkari’s support. After all, his supporters argue that Khanduri was forced out of office in 2009 by his detractors after the BJP lost all 5 Lok Sabha seats. Now, Nishank finds himself “totally sidelined” when he steered the state government through those ‘tough times.’ Gadkari went by his advisers who told him that Khanduri, whose image was unsullied, alone could ‘salvage’ the situation.
On his return as CM, Khanduri quickly ensured unanimous passage by the state assembly of the Citizens’ Charter, Lokayukta and a transparent transfer policy for government employees, which were seen as game changers. In fact, Team Anna even hailed his bill as being closest to Jan Lokpal Bill.