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Ankita murder & corruption fallout — Changes in Dhami cabinet, Uttarakhand BJP unit likely soon

Senior leader B.L. Santosh took extensive feedback about Uttarakhand government as well as the state unit. BJP top brass is concerned with public perception against the government.

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New Delhi/Dehradun: Concerned over a spate of protests over the Ankita Bhandari murder case and the alleged recruitment scams in Uttarakhand, the BJP central leadership has stepped in to put the house in order and is likely to make changes in the Pushkar Singh Dhami government as well as the state unit. 

Merely a day after Dhami returned to Dehradun from his two-day visit to Delhi where he held meetings with senior leaders, BJP general secretary (organisation) B. L. Santhosh reached Dehradun Friday to take stock of the situation in the state. 

This was Dhami’s second visit to Delhi within eight days. 

The top leadership is concerned over the way things have unfolded in Uttarakhand, barely months after the BJP government retained power in March. The top brass not only summoned Dhami, but the Uttarakhand unit president Mahendra Bhatt, senior ministers Dhan Singh Rawat, Trivendra Singh Rawat, Satpal Maharaj, Ritu Khanduri had also met the central leaders.  

Soon after he returned to the state, Dhami flew to meet Ankita Bhandari’s parents Friday and assured them all help from the government. 

According to a senior BJP leader, Santhosh held closed-door meetings with several BJP leaders and ministers and also took feedback from them about the functioning of the Dhami government as well as the state unit. Officially, the party maintained that Santhosh was in Dehradun to participate in a function of the BJP Kisan Morcha. 

Besides meeting BJP’s four state general secretaries, Santosh sat down with Dhami’s cabinet ministers Ganesh Joshi, Dhan Singh Rawat and Subodh Uniyal. Barring closed door deliberations with general secretaries, Santosh met the ministers with other BJP office bearers including party spokespersons. 

According to a senior BJP leader, Santosh sought feedback on the extent of impact that the Ankita Bhandari murder, the alleged irregularities in assembly appointments and recruitment scams can have on the Dhami government and the BJP in the run-up to the 2024 general election. 

Party leaders said apart from deliberation on strengthening the organisation at booth levels in assembly constituencies where the BJP lost repeatedly, Santhosh also took feedback on the six-month performance of the Dhami government.

Sources told ThePrint that the feedback by Santhosh will now be shared with the central leadership and a decision will be taken whether to carry out a cabinet expansion or a reshuffle. 

“There are likely to be major surprises as far as changes in the cabinet are concerned. Some new faces will be accommodated, and this will help bolster the image of the government that took a beating after the Ankita murder case,” said a senior BJP leader. 

It is learnt that Santosh took feedback on the functioning of the Dhami government as well as of the state unit.

“He [Santosh] took a six-monthly report of the government functioning. He has also taken feedback from senior officials on many important issues in which UKSSSC paper leak case, assembly recruitment scam and Ankita murder case are important. These issues will play an important role in preparing the nature of the government and organisation in the coming days,” added the leader. 

Friends and family connections of political leaders are alleged to have cornered at least 72 ad hoc jobs in the Uttarakhand Assembly. Later, more than 200 recruitments were cancelled by Speaker Ritu Khanduri.

In the Uttarakhand Subordinate Service Selection Commission (UKSSC) scam, question papers were allegedly leaked to candidates for which money had exchanged hands. Over 35 people have been arrested so far in this case.

Party sources said Santosh discussed the strategy for the upcoming party and government programmes after taking feedback from the BJP leaders and ministers about the opposition’s strategy so far in the Ankita Bhandari case and what all the BJP can do. “The party would not like to hand over the Ankita issue, especially the emotional connection it has with the state to the opposition under any circumstances. For this, the party has already organised tribute meetings across the state,” said a leader. 

Another BJP leader said that the central leadership was quite concerned over the alleged recruitment scam and how the opposition has been raking it. The comments by cabinet minister and former speaker Premchand Agarwal had embarrassed the government and the party when he admitted that nepotism in appointments in the Uttarakhand Assembly were part of the tradition since 2002. 

The recruitment scam has become a huge controversy, and that the central leadership was upset was amply clear. Action has been sought against development minister Premchand Agarwal and two others as party leaders and several MLAs want their expulsion. The feedback has been shared but the central leadership will take a call,”
said this party functionary. 

“Santhosh ji also talked about maintaining party discipline and how the state unit needs to be strengthened ahead of the 2024 polls. He said a few leaders are giving a bad name to the good work of the government, and these issues need to be addressed,” said another leader. 

Also Read: ‘Feel very insecure here’ — Ankita Bhandari told friends about being coerced into ‘sex work’

Worry over Ankita Bhandari case

According to BJP leaders, the central leadership was concerned about the sudden  demolition of the controversial resort room where Ankita Bhandari lived. 

“Vanantara Resort room where Ankita stayed during her working at the resort was bulldozed by the government on the night of September 22 when the police began searching for the victim in the canal where she was dumped by the accused. There is a protocol for everything, and not everyone can become a bulldozer baba,” said a senior BJP leader. 

The murder of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari, employed by the resort owner Pulkit Arya — the son of Haridwar-based BJP leader and former RSS pracharak Vinod Arya — had led to widespread protests in Uttarakhand. 

Appointments to be made in Uttarakhand BJP

While BJP state president Mahendra Bhatt has appointed his state executive and frontal bodies, he is yet to finalise district heads. Bhatt told ThePrint that the party will soon have a new district unit chief in a week. “New district presidents will be appointed anytime after October 5, as we have completed consultations with senior leaders and central leadership. Aspects like caste and leader’s mass base have been taken into account in finalising the names,” said Bhatt. 

Although the BJP won only 14 constituencies in the 44-member Haridwar district panchayat polls, it was party’s best ever performance in the past 22 years. Apart from BJP\s 14 seats, independent candidates grabbed 19 seats, BSP bagged 6 and the Congress managed to get 5. 

Bhatt told ThePrint that the BJP will have its first Haridwar district panchayat president this year as Independents are willing to support the party. However, the party is also concerned that Independent candidates managed to win 19 seats.  

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Seat of vairagya vs development — Dhami govt at odds with priests on Kedarnath wall gold plating


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