All Eyes On Major
He was brought in at a time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttarakhand appeared headed for an electoral disaster, with the assembly elections approaching fast and, the BJP government badly besieged by the allegations of corruption. Incidentally, the gamble appears to have paid off. For the party, reappointing Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri as Chief Minister hasn’t turned out to be a bad decision.
In fact, the BJP has also chosen him as the party’s mascot for the ensuing assembly elections. “The party has decided to contest the forthcoming assembly election under Khanduri’s leadership owing to his clean image and his reputation of a no-nonsense administrator,” said the BJP national general secretary and co-incharge of the party’s state election committee Dharmendra Pradhan.
The former Major General, a self-confessed Anna Hazare-fan, was reappointed as Chief Minister (replacing his predecessor Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank) last September owing to his clean image and the reputation of a tough administrator he carries. And Khanduri doesn’t appear to have disappointed his political bosses either. In fact, he is said to have succeeded in rekindling hope into the party workers who had “become de-motivated with the BJP losing its support base in the region owing to the BJP government under his predecessor having been constantly buffeted by the allegations of corruption by the proactive opposition”. In fact, the party’s internal surveys too showed the BJP government’s dismal ratings, predicting that the party wouldn’t be able to win more than 6-7 seats in the 2012 assembly elections, say party insiders.
It is also a fact that Khanduri hasn’t really succeeded in generating some kind of a wave in favour of the BJP in the poll-bound hill state, nor has he been able to bring about a turnaround in development. That’s understandable considering that the Khanduri government had just four months’ working time left for it with the coming assembly polls due in February.
Yet, the mood in the ruling party appears upbeat. The reason: the majority of the BJP workers feel that ever since Khanduri took over the reins of power, the BJP’s popularity graph has witnessed a sudden rise in the state. For that, the BJP workers give credit to the former Major General’s “clean image as well as a number of anti-graft measures he has initiated along with a series of path-breaking pro-people policies and schemes”. “Among a number of anti-graft measures he has taken after he took over as Chief Minister, the most path-breaking has been his initiative of bringing the CM’s office under the Lokayukta by getting a Lokayukta bill passed in the state assembly”, said state BJP spokesperson Mukesh Mahendra. “It was a historic move for which Khanduri elicited countrywide appreciation and those who appreciated it also include the members of Anna Team who have been crusading for a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) bill to be introduced at the Centre”, he added. Like this, Khanduri brought two more key anti-graft laws namely the Special Court Act and the Right to Service Act “so as to provide relief to the aam aadmi from the corrupt officials”.
Besides, he also introduced a number of schemes and policies with a social connect. Such measures include new slum and youth policies, besides, an initiative whereby it has been made mandatory for those not supporting their old parents to provide the latter a monthly monetary help of Rs 10,000. As per the new slum policy, a total of 8.5 lakh slum-dwellers living in 582 slum colonies in the urban settlements across the sate would be provided pucca houses at subsidised rates. They would also be able to avail another option under which they would be entitled to residential plots in cities. These (residential plots) would be leased out to slum-dwellers and they would be able to sell those (residential plots) only after the latter would be declared `freehold’ following an expiry of a 10-year lease period. As per the youth policy, a Youth Commission would also be set up to ensure that one lakh unemployed youth domiciled in the region not only get skill enhancement trainings every year but also placements either in the public or private sector or facilities for self-employment.
Most BJP workers feel that all these initiatives did help create an atmosphere of positivity in favour of the ruling party. “Recently I was on a visit to the Yamkeshwar assembly constituency. Whoever I met there shared with me one thing: the BJP’s popularity graph certainly increased in that area after Khanduri had taken over as Chief Minister”, recalls a senior BJP leader Sushila Baluni. Adds BJP spokesperson Mahendra, “This sense of all-round positivity that’s being witnessed across the region has also rubbed off on our party workers as is evidenced by their exceedingly high morale.” Concurs Baluni, “Today, Khanduriji is seen as an honest, committed and well-meaning person…. somebody who wouldn’t indulge in wrongful things or harm anybody.” According to her, even the bureaucracy has started functioning well now as it is in awe of the Chief Minister.
But then is everything really so hunky-dory? If yes, will the goodwill Khanduri is said to have generated really translate into votes? Or, to be precise, will he be able to help the BJP return to power? There are a sizeable number of party workers who think it wouldn’t be that easy despite the BJP high command having declared Khanduri the party’s mascot for the next assembly elections. “The possibilities of our party returning to power with a comfortable majority are remote…all we might end up getting is a tally of 20 seats in a house of 70 legislators”, said a senior BJP leader from Kumaon requesting anonymity. The reason he cites is simple. According to him, the anti-graft laws that Khanduri introduced might perhaps win the BJP some more votes in urban pockets where people understand the importance of anti-graft laws, but in rural areas of the state or its remote hilly areas, which have bulk of voters, such initiatives are not going to work.
“Life in rural areas especially in the hills is extremely tough owing to the region’s difficult geographical terrain”, said a senior BJP office-bearer. According to him, the people in such areas tend to vote a ruling party if it has provided them basic facilities such as roads, tap water, hospitals etc so as to help them lead an easy life. “Sadly for us, our government couldn’t really deliver on that front…so…naturally, the majority of the people in the hills aren’t really happy with us”, said the BJP leader. “It is owing to this disenchantment with the BJP that even the public meetings of our top national leaders such as LK Advani, Nitin Gadkari (party president) and actress-turned politician Smiriti Irani remain thinly attended”, he added.
By M Mukundan from Dehradun