New Delhi: On Wednesday, the new Uttarakhand cabinet under Pushkar Singh Dhami took oath, and one of the notable names in the list was second-time Sitarganj MLA Saurabh Bahuguna. Another name who got a plum post under the BJP government is Kotdwar MLA Ritu Khanduri Bhushan, who will be Uttarakhand’s first woman Speaker.
What’s common to the two leaders is that they are both children of former state chief ministers. Saurabh is the son of Vijay Bahuguna, while Ritu is the daughter of B.C. Khanduri. She is also one-half of a power couple — her husband Rajesh Bhushan is the Union health secretary.
The appointments come just a few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 15 March, had spoken out against dynastic politics, and told BJP MPs that if their children were denied election tickets, it was at his behest.
Khanduri, a former major general of the Indian Army, was the chief minister of Uttarakhand from March 2007 to June 2009, and then again from September 2011 to March 2012. He was also a Member of Parliament in the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19). Bahuguna led the state as a Congress CM between March 2012 and January 2014, with the political grapevine attributing his ascension to his proximity with the Gandhi family. He was also a member of the Lok Sabha between 2007 and 2012, before joining the BJP in 2016 along with eight other “rebels”.
The two erstwhile CMs also have family ties. Khanduri is a cousin of Bahuguna, whom he defeated in the 1998 parliamentary elections from the Pauri constituency.
A reluctant politician
One of three children of Khanduri, Ritu Khanduri Bhushan is currently head of the BJP’s women’s wing in Uttarakhand.
Acquaintances describe her as a “reluctant politician”. She was a faculty member at Amity University, Noida, before taking the political plunge in 2017 from the Yamkeshwar constituency in Pauri Garhwal, from where her family hails.
“She was a teacher and she was very happy with her teaching job. She had initial hesitancy in taking the political plunge but did so at the behest of her father. The reluctance was initial, because now she is fully invested in politics. She was crestfallen after being denied the ticket (from Yamkeshwar) because she had nurtured the constituency really well,” a personal acquaintance told ThePrint.
Her victory from Kotdwar this election was doubly sweet because not only did she survive the scare of being denied a ticket from her original seat of Yamkeshwar, but she also avenged her father’s 2012 defeat from the same seat at the hands of Congress candidate and former cabinet minister Surendra Singh Negi.
In 2012, Negi had been Khanduri’s nemesis. Throughout her campaign, Ritu Khanduri Bhushan spoke about her father and his defeat, a pitch that served her well at the hustings.
Deep family ties
The political lineage of Saurabh Bahuguna, who made headlines immediately after being sworn-in as a cabinet minister Wednesday when he lost his iPhone 13 during the ceremony, is both deep and wide.
He is the grandson of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, a freedom fighter and native of Pauri Garhwal, who made his name as a prominent Brahmin face of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh from the 1950s onwards. He was also the chief minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh between 1973 and 1975.
Saurabh’s aunt Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who began her political career like her father in the Congress, is currently a BJP MP from Allahabad, while her son Mayank joined the Samajwadi Party just before the Assembly elections in the state. Joshi had followed her brother Vijay Bahuguna into the BJP in October 2016.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)