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Dhami’s Delhi trips, BL Santhosh in Dehradun — is BJP getting anxious about Uttarakhand?

National general secretary Santhosh’s visit to Dehradun was attempt by high command to assess if BJP is losing ground in Uttarakhand after Ankita Bhandari murder, it is learnt.

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Dehradun: Four days since BJP national general secretary (organisation) B. L. Santhosh’s visit to the state, political circles in Uttarakhand are abuzz with details of his interactions with ministers and state leaders. The visit was preceded by CM Pushkar Singh Dhami’s trip to New Delhi last week.

Dhami, who visited Delhi twice in eight days — hoping for an audience with either PM Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah or BJP chief J. P. Nadda — had to wait for 48 hours before he was asked to meet Santhosh late Wednesday evening, ThePrint has learnt. Following the meeting, Santhosh landed in Dehradun Friday to gather feedback about the functioning of the Dhami-led government and the BJP state unit.

While the party has downplayed Dhami’s visit to Delhi and Santhosh’s trip to Dehradun as routine affairs, BJP state general secretary Aditya Kothari told ThePrint that Santhosh is expected to visit Uttarakhand again within a fortnight to reassess the situation.

The BJP government in Uttarakhand is under intense pressure amid public outrage over alleged irregularities in state recruitment exams and the arrest of former minister Vinod Arya’s son, Pulkit, in connection with the murder of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari.

Santhosh interacted with newly-appointed general secretaries of the Uttarakhand BJP for nearly two hours. But it was his exchange with state cabinet minister Ganesh Joshi, a former Army man, that has set the grapevine fluttering.

According to BJP insiders, Santhosh asked ministers during a meeting to list the virtues of a jawan, to which he received responses like ‘honesty’, ‘discipline’, ‘patriotism’, ‘hard work’, ‘dedication’, and ‘valour’. The senior BJP leader, upon hearing these responses, turned to Joshi and asked him: “Which of these qualities do you still find in yourself?”

“Hearing this from him [Santhosh], the minister and other party leaders present in the meeting were taken aback,” said a BJP functionary who was witness to the incident.

Recalling another incident from Santhosh’s meeting with state general secretaries, a BJP leader said Joshi was pulling up his driver for delay in bringing a bouquet to be presented to the BJP leader who had arrived from Delhi. To that, Santhosh, who is part of the BJP’s 11-member parliamentary board, asked Joshi: “Which is more idle, your protocol or you?”

Joshi, however, claimed his interaction with Santhosh was in a lighter vein. “He did ask me if I have any qualities of an armed personnel left [in me]. It happened in a jovial mood as I’m an ex-serviceman. He avoided discussing any political matters with me. Our discussions were limited to agriculture and horticulture as he was here to take part in a Kisan Morcha function,” Joshi told ThePrint.

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

Dhami’s back-to-back Delhi visits

After the Uttarakhand poll results were out in March, the BJP central leadership handed over the reins to Dhami even as he lost from Khatima. Dhami held on to the post by winning a bypoll from Champawat — a seat vacated by a sitting BJP MLA  — to facilitate his return to the legislative assembly within six months from the date he took over as the chief minister.

Soon after landing in Delhi Tuesday afternoon, Dhami met his political mentor and Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at Maharashtra Bhavan followed by a meeting with Union Tourism minister G. Kishan Reddy.

ThePrint has learnt that a number of issues were discussed during Dhami’s hour-long meeting with Santhosh in Delhi last week, among them being steps taken by his government to investigate the Ankita Bhandari murder and the possibility of a cabinet reshuffle or reallocation of departments to ministers.

During his previous visit on 19 September, Dhami had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah to apprise him of steps taken by the state government to probe alleged irregularities in the Uttarakhand Subordinate Service Selection Commission (UKSSSC) recruitment exam and questionable appointments to the legislative assembly, said BJP functionaries.

Sources said Dhami was slated to meet Nadda last week along with BJP state chief Mahendra Bhatt who, too, had flown to Delhi Tuesday evening. Bhatt, however, told ThePrint: “I had no information if the chief minister was called to Delhi or he had gone himself. I was clueless about his visit to Delhi Tuesday till a party worker told me about it.”

The BJP central leadership had also summoned former CM Trivendra Singh Rawat and Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker Ritu Khanduri to Delhi in the second week of September. While Rawat met Nadda and PM Modi, sources say Khanduri briefed Shah about developments in the state. Upon her return to the state, Khanduri ordered the formation of an Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe allegations of nepotism in appointments to the legislative assembly.

Rawat, meanwhile, told ThePrint that some prevailing issues did come up for discussions in Delhi. “My meeting with the PM and the BJP chief was focussed mainly on developmental activities in the state. Although not in detail, recruitment scams and other existing issues also cropped up briefly with the party president,” he told ThePrint.

‘Santhosh gauging public sentiment’

A senior Uttarakhand BJP leader said that Santhosh’s visit was aimed at “gauging” public sentiment. “He is privy to what is happening within the party here even when he is in Delhi. His visit was simply to verify inputs he has been receiving.”

“There is a concerted effort from the opposition camps within the party to fail the Dhami government in the eyes of the people of Uttarakhand and the party high command in Delhi,” an Uttarakhand cabinet minister claimed.

Apart from allegations of corruption and irregularities levelled against the Dhami government, Santhosh is also believed to have discussed the Ankita Bhandari murder case with the Uttarakhand BJP leaders.

Cabinet minister Dhan Singh Rawat, among senior BJP state leaders who met Santhosh, said the latter inquired about the coordination between the state government and the BJP state unit. “He [Santhosh] seemed satisfied by steps taken by the government in this sad incident [Ankita Bhandari murder] and said that the state must ensure harshest punishment to the culprits so that it becomes a deterrent for the criminals in future,” Rawat told ThePrint.

Asked about his meeting with Santhosh, BJP state general secretary Aditya Kothari said: “He wants us to introduce new measures in the form of plans and campaigns for strengthening the organisation at grassroots. He has asked us to launch new campaigns and reach out to every part of the state, urban or rural areas.” 

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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


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