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Can Dhami break the losing streak? Uttarakhand’s CMs haven’t had much luck at the polls

The state has seen 10 CMs in 21 years, and only one has successfully defended his own seat in an assembly election. BJP leaders say Pushkar Singh Dhami will break the pattern.

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Dehradun: Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami is up against a formidable challenge in his own constituency in the upcoming state Assembly elections, and it’s not just the opposition — it’s a long losing streak.

No sitting chief minister has successfully defended his own seat after the 21-year-old state’s first ever Assembly elections in 2002, except in bypolls. Every election has also seen the ruling party tossed out, with power alternating between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

This time, Dhami is working to guard his own turf — he’s been the MLA for Khatima in Udham Singh Nagar district since 2012 — and his supporters say the “myth” of the losing streak will be broken in the upcoming polls, scheduled for February 2022.

BJP leaders said that Dhami, after taking over as CM in July, has both cemented himself as a bankable face for the party and strengthened his grip on Khatima. He has repeatedly visited the constituency and announced developmental projects there worth around Rs. 400 crore in the past one-and-a-half months. 

Speaking to ThePrint, state cabinet minister Yatishwaranand said, “Not only will Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami win his own seat for a third consecutive term, his leadership will help the BJP destroy the myth that the incumbent government never wins a second term.”

However, opposition leaders said Dhami was unlikely to break the trend. Bhuwan Kapri, the Congress candidate who lost to Kapri by less than 3,000 votes in the 2017 Assembly election, told ThePrint, “He (Dhami) has nothing to speak of to his credit. I am sure the history of sitting chief ministers will repeat itself in 2022.”

Also read: Rahul Gandhi makes it clear Rawat is in charge of Uttarakhand polls — but doesn’t name CM face

Dhami’s prospects

BJP leaders were all praise for Dhami’s performance, and confident that he would break the losing streak. 

Yatishwaranand told ThePrint that Dhami, in addition to being “easily accessible to ordinary people,” had a “remarkable record” of fulfilling promises to voters. “He always substantiates his announcements on development projects by giving government orders for their implementation without wasting time.”

The minister added that Dhami had earned much praise for decisions such as repealing the Char Dham Devasthanam Board Act — a law introduced by former CM Trivendra Singh Rawat to set up a body to manage many temples in the state, which had led to a major agitation by priests — last month, and opening up more government jobs.   

Senior BJP leader Virendra Singh Bisht concurred that Dhami would put an end to the “myth”, and added, “As CM, he has won the confidence of Khatima’s voters. And the voters know that he will become CM again if the BJP wins.”

Bisht added that Dhami’s “proactive approach” since taking over as CM in July had “synergised” party workers, and that he had provided sops to his constituency. “His third victory cannot be doubted on any account,” said Bisht. 

The aforementioned sops include unveiling one of Uttarakhand’s three central-government-sponsored Eklavya Model Residential Schools in Khatima, as well as another central school, a Canteen Service Directorate (CSD) canteen for ex-servicemen, an Industrial Training Institute (ITI), a high-tech bus stand, a cricket stadium, and a honey factory — all after Dhami became CM in July. 

Dhami has also said repeatedly that Uttarakhand had benefited from developmental projects amounting to almost Rs. 1 lakh crore since the BJP came to power in 2017.

Manbir Singh, BJP senior state spokesperson, said, “The CM has done enough to ensure his win. His constituency has seen unprecedented development in health, education, and  infrastructure. We’re sure that the fate of the sitting CMs in 2007 and 2012 won’t be repeated in 2022. ”  

However, Bhuwan Kapri, the former Congress candidate in Khatima and a working president of the Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee, disagreed.

He said, “Much damage has already been done. Besides facing farmers’ anger, Dhami is known for patronising the land, mining and liquor mafias in the constituency He became chief minister six months ago but has represented Khatima for two terms. All the work he claims to have done — such as the Eklavya school, the stadium, and roads  — was begun by former CMs Harish Rawat or Trivendra Singh Rawat.”

Kapri added, “Dhami had a good chance to fulfil a longstanding demand to make Khatima a district, but failed to do so.” 

He also referred to an upcoming satellite centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, saying that Dhami could have allocated the centre to Khatima “as it’s in the Nepal border area and would also have an impact in several other constituencies — Dharchula, Didihat, Gangolihat, Pithoragarh, Champawat, Sitarganj, Nanakmatta, and Lohaghat — where people usually go to Bhojipura, Uttar Pradesh for medical care.”

“Had this medical centre come to Khatima, it would not only have helped people in these areas but also provided revenue from Nepal. Ironically, Dhami as CM has allocated the centre to Kichha, which is very close to the district headquarters, Rudrapur — an area that already has good medical facilities,” said Kapri.

Also read: How BJP and Congress in poll-bound Uttarakhand are invoking late CDS Rawat’s name

The losing streak

Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000, 21 years ago. In that time, it has seen four Assembly elections. 

As the BJP had the largest number of MLAs from Uttarakhand in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly when the new state was created, it formed an interim government from 2000 to 2002. Nityanand Swami served as chief minister from 2001 to 2002, and was succeeded by Bhagat Singh Koshyari.

When the state went to the polls for the first time in 2002, Koshyari was able to retain his seat — the only CM to pull it off thus far — although the BJP lost the election. 

The Congress formed the new government and Narayan Datt Tiwari took over as chief minister for the next five years, but didn’t contest in the next election, in 2007. The BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly, but fell one seat short of a majority. 

The BJP brought in then Lok Sabha MP B.C. Khanduri as Chief Minister, but replaced him with his cabinet minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ in 2009. But Pokhriyal resigned in September 2011 after a series of corruption allegations, and Khanduri was brought back barely six months ahead of the next Assembly election.

The 2012 polls saw the BJP defeated — and Khanduri losing his own Kotdwar seat. The Congress emerged as the largest party, falling four seats short of a majority, and formed a government with the support of independent MLAs. 

Vijay Bahuguna became the next chief minister, but he resigned in January 2014 after he was heavily criticised for his handling of rescue operations in the wake of the devastating June 2013 floods. The Congress replaced him with Harish Rawat, who would be the sitting chief minister going into the 2017 polls.

In 2017, Rawat chose to contest from two constituencies, Kichha in Kumaon and Haridwar Rural. He lost in both to the sitting BJP MLAs — Rajesh Shukla and Yatishwaranand. The BJP won a solid majority in the Assembly this time around, and installed Trivendra Singh Rawat as chief minister.

Trivendra remained in office for four years until he resigned in March this year amid growing murmurs of dissent among his ministers and MLAs and criticism for his handling of the Chamoli flash floods in February. His successor, Tirath Singh Rawat, had a short tenure until he was replaced with Dhami in July. 

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also  read: Why Uttarakhand Congress is fuming at BJP govt award to former CM N.D. Tiwari


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