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Old ‘favourite’ or new face — BJP mulls Uttarakhand CM dilemma after Dhami’s poll defeat

While BJP won Uttarakhand polls, breaking anti-incumbency jinx, Dhami — party's CM face — lost. With many aspirants for the post, party has also received requests for a Brahmin CM & a woman CM.

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Dehradun: Just two days after the BJP made a spectacular return to power in Uttarakhand — winning 47 of 70 assembly seats in the election results announced Thursday — celebrations of victory are toned down by an important question weighing on the minds of all BJP leaders here. Who will be the next Uttarakhand CM?

The BJP Thursday, for the first time in 22 years, defeated the anti-incumbency jinx that had previously stopped it from forming government in Uttarakhand for consecutive terms. Pushkar Singh Dhami — who was heading the government before the elections — had been brought in as CM a little more than six months before the polls, reportedly to control the anti-incumbency sentiments brewing in the state under former CMs, Tirath Singh Rawat and Trivendra Singh Rawat. While the former had served in office for only months, Trivendra Singh had been the BJP’s choice for CM after winning the 2017 elections, and served in office for about four years.

While Dhami had been the BJP’s chief ministerial face in the runup to the elections, the leader lost out to the Congress’ Bhuwan Chandra Khapri in Khatima, from where he had contested the polls.

While many sources in the BJP said that Dhami remains one of the front runners for the CM’s post despite his election loss, others in the party are of the view that installing him as the CM after he lost in the elections would “set a bad precedent”. According to a senior BJP leader new names are being considered and a final decision will be made soon.

It is not unheard of a party leader to become CM despite an individual loss in the elections. Last year West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had lost in Nandigram — from where she had contested the 2021 West Bengal assembly elections — even though the Trinamool Congress had won the polls by a clear majority. Banerjee retained her position of CM and within months won a by-election to ensure her place in the assembly.

But party leaders point out that the BJP has in the past dropped for the position of CM leaders who had once been its chief ministerial face after they lost in elections.

“In 2017, the party won the Himachal Pradesh assembly election, but its chief ministerial face Prem Kumar lost in the Sujanpur assembly seat. He was denied the post after his loss. So what has changed now? We are critical of Mamata Banerjee for losing and still becoming the CM, won’t the opposition raise this issue too? There are many who have waited patiently and won too, so they should also be considered,” said a senior BJP leader.

According to sources, a section in the party is of the view that getting into another election (even a by-election for Dhami to qualify as MLA to retain his CM post) does not make sense, and therefore want Dhami to be accommodated in some other role.

A final decision in the matter will be taken by the central leadership, as was confirmed by BJP’s national spokesperson and media in-charge Anil Baluni.

“Nothing can be said about who will be the new CM of the state. Party has appointed Dharmendra Pradhan and Piyush Goyal as observers to take stock of the situation. Anything concrete can be said only after their meeting with the elected legislators,” Baluni told ThePrint.

Baluni, however, claimed that all options have been kept open by the party leadership for now, and it was being considered whether to pick someone from among the newly-elected MLAs or some other leader for the post of CM.

According to some sources, the party is also considering the caste dynamics before making its choice. A senior leader in the party said that the possibility of choosing a Brahmin chief minister is also being looked into. “Most of the chief ministers in the past have been Thakurs and Brahmins have not got proper representation. This is also an issue that is being looked into. If that happens Subodh Uniyal and State BJP Chief Madan Kaushik are frontrunner.s The party has also got informal representation to choose a woman chief minister this time,” said the senior BJP leader quoted above.

Meanwhile, Pradhan and Goyal are likely to reach Dehradun in a day or two, to take stock of the situation. The two observers are expected to hold meetings with the newly-elected MLAs and consultations with state office bearers to gather feedback on Dhami and other chief ministerial aspirants.

“The Chief minister will be decided by the central leaders in accordance with the party’s set norms and procedure. Nothing more can be said about who will be the choice of the leadership, but the name once finalised will be accepted by all legislators” said Kaushik.

Dhami formally resigned as chief minister Friday.

Also read: Badals, Channi, Gandhis, Akhilesh, Mayawati — Big guns of 2022 who ended up as the big losers

‘Many’ aspirants for CM’s post

The BJP in Uttarakhand has many chief ministerial aspirants and following Dhami’s election loss, sources said they have all been holding close-door meetings with senior BJP leaders to push their case. Some of the key players for the role include former Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj, his cabinet colleague Dhan Singh Rawat and Water Resources Minister in the Dhami government, Bishen Singh Chufal.

“Satpal Maharaj has the support of senior RSS leaders from Nagpur,” said the senior leader quoted above. He added that Maharaj has already had meetings with BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Union Minister Pralhad Joshi.

According to sources, Baluni himself is in the race for the post, along with former CM and Haridwar Lok Sabha MP Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank.

Former CM Trivendra Singh Rawat, who refused to contest this election, can be a surprise choice for the post too, as he remains in the good books of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, added a close aide of Rawat’s.

A group of senior BJP and RSS leaders are also said to be lobbying for Rawat in Delhi. In fact newly-elected MLA Brijbhushan Gairola, who won in Doiwala — a constituency that was represented by Trivendra Singh Rawat in the last assembly — has openly announced he will vacate the seat if BJP picks Rawat as CM candidate.

However, close-aides of Dhami claimed that the party may give another chance to the incumbent CM as the election was fought under his leadership and he was the only leader of the BJP who led the election campaign across the state along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“After two chief ministers were changed and they failed to deliver, Dhami was able to unite the party leaders. In barely six months he was able to build up momentum for the party. He toured extensively across the state and has delivered so this is something that goes in his favour,” said State BJP spokesperson Shadab Shams.

According to some BJP leaders, the party’s state election in-charge and Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, as well as some other leaders in Delhi, favoured Dhami.

A Uttarakhand BJP general secretary said on the condition of anonymity that “Dhami is still a front-runner for the post, but it may take time to announce his name, as some formalities are mandatory. Even Pralhad Joshi and Kailash Vijayvargiya who were here to celebrate the party’s victory on the day results were announced, hinted amply on Dhami’s candidature in closed-door meetings with the party leaders.”

Shams also spoke of Dhami’s possible choice as CM.

“Dhami is a natural and obvious choice by the party for the top job. Although he lost the election but party won with his face in the front. In fact it was his six-month governance that put a break in the anti-incumbency and was one of the reasons for the party’s victory in the elections. Besides, he suits the party because he is young, but has enough experience of governance. However final decision has to be taken by the central leadership as per its own criterion” said Shams.

Some BJP MLAs have meanwhile offered to vacate their seats for Dhami, said BJP leaders. Chief state BJP spokesperson, Manwir Chauhan, told ThePrint that “So far two MLAs, Suresh Gadiya from Kapkot and Kailash Gahtodi from Champawat, have openly offered to resign from the assembly in favour of Dhami. Four to five more newly-elected legislators are ready to vacate their seats in of the former CM, but they are not willing to be named at present”

Chauhan also claimed that most party MLAs were in favour of Dhami being made CM again.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Thanks to reduced UP majority, July’s Presidential election just got a little tougher for BJP


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