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BJP’S Big Three Brought Nishank To Its Knee

Updated: September 3, 2011 5:41 pm

With hardly six months left for the next assembly elections in Uttarakhand the Bhartiya Janata Party is facing what most ruling parties have to contend with ahead of polls: the sidelined and disgruntled leaders resorting to pressure tactics to get their pound of flesh.

                In the BJP state unit there are three such leaders trying to arm twist the party high command into allowing them to have their say in the party affairs ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections due early next year. These “rebels” are ex-Lt Gen TPS Rawat, former Chief Ministers (Major Gen, retired) B C Khanduri and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. A BJP veteran and a former Rashtriya Sewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, Koshiyari had also been the president of the ruling party’s (BJP’s) state unit. Incidentally, all these three leaders happen to be leaders of stature with each one of them commanding their respective loyal vote bank. They nonetheless remain sidelined within the saffron party.

                Now, with the assembly polls just a few months away the “Big Three” have started asserting themselves. That is obvious considering that for the sidelined leaders in any political party, the pre-election time is always the “most opportune” time to strike so as to get their “due.” For, no party likes to split before elections, so tough action against dissenters and rebels is mostly eschewed. No wonder, if the Uttarakhand BJP too finds its hands tied to its back while the trio of Koshiyari, Khanduri and Rawat is giving the party high command sleepless nights owing to their rebellious ways.

                And of them, the most vocal has been Rawat. Formerly a Congressman and an ex-minister in the erstwhile ND Tiwari government, this ex-army general, unlike his brother officer (former chief minister and ex-Major Gen BC Khanduri) has declared literally an open rebellion against the BJP leadership. His recent announcement of floating an ‘anti-corruption’ front has sent tremors through the party. ‘Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha’ may be an innocuous sounding term but those within the BJP know only too well that it’s the beginning of the ex-army general’s open revolt against the party. Besides, the saffron party leaders are the least comfortable with the Morcha because it has been floated to carry out anti-corruption crusade both against the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre and the Ramesh Pokhriyal-led BJP government in Uttarakhand. Rawat clarifies that the Morcha has been launched in deference to the people’s wishes. “People everywhere are fed up with corruption in high places, be it the Centre or the State government,” Rawat says adding, he had been under tremendous pressure from his supporters, both ex-army men and the civil society members in general to launch a movement against corruption and this constant pressure culminated in the formation of the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha.

                But probe him a bit further and the sidelined leader is not able to cloak his feeling of pain and hurt against his own party (BJP) that he joined after quitting the Congress following the 2007 assembly elections which saw the saffron party coming to power with just 35 seats i.e. one short of simple majority in an assembly of 70 seats. Rawat who was then Congress MLA from the Dhumakot assembly constituency resigned from that party as well as his seat to join the BJP at Khanduri’s persuasion, thus ensuring a simple majority for the BJP in the state assembly. “So, I not only made it possible for the BJP to form its government I also made Khanduri chief minister by abdicating my (Dhumakot assembly) seat which he successfully contested to enter the state assembly”, says Rawat adding, “all they (BJP) did for me in return was that they allowed me to contest from the Pauri Lok Sabha seat in the 2009 general election.” Incidentally, ex-army general lost even that seat. Since then he has been completely sidelined within the party having not been considered by it for any position either within the organisation or in the government.

                But Rawat’s clarion call against corruption ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections appears to have thrown the ruling BJP literally into a tizzy. Just a day after he announced his decision of floating his anti-corruption front Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank gave him a frantic phone call. “Nishank talked to me for 15 minutes giving me all kinds of explanations in response to my anti-corruption front saying that there was no charge of corruption against his government as it has been absolved it of all such charges by the state high court,” Rawat said. Even the state BJP president Bishan Singh Chuphal holds the same opinion. Chuphal along with State BJP general secretary Dhan Singh Rawat also visited Rawat’s home to persuade him against organising his August 14 rally but he (Rawat) said he was determined to go ahead with his programme.

                Rawat has made his displeasure known to the BJP high command by floating the anti-graft front but he is not the only rebel leader within the party. Koshiyari and Khanduri have been expressing their dissent for the past couple of months or so but they have so far limited themselves to sharing it either directly with the high command or at party forums. The duo became staunch political foes after the high command anointed its blue-eyed boy Khanduri as chief minister following the BJP’s victory in the 2007 assembly elections while completely ignoring Koshiyari’s claim. The then state BJP president (Koshiyari) though saw himself as a natural claimant to the top slot as he felt it was he who steered the party to victory in the 2007 assembly elections. Peeved at being ignored Koshiyari quietly began fanning factionalism in the party pressuring the high command into replacing Khanduri with Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank as chief minister in June 2009. The months that followed saw the twin political foes joining hands to replace Nishank especially after BJP chief Nitin Gadkari announced that he (Nishank) would be the party’s face for the 2012 assembly elections. The party high command was, however, forced to reconsider its decision as the twin sidelined leaders started asking for their say in party affairs while demanding that Nishank be replaced. At the BJP’s recently held meeting at Mussoorie that had been called to discuss the poll strategy the party’s election campaign in-charge Rajnath Singh made it clear that the forthcoming assembly election would be fought under the joint leadership of Khanduri, Koshiyari and Nishank.

                Obviously, the BJP high command doesn’t want to annoy any of the three (Koshiyari, Khanduri and Rawat). The reason: each one of these has his own vote bank. Khanduri and Rawat being ex-army generals are popular among the ex-servicemen. Khanduri also has a large following among the people in Garhwal’s rural areas owing to his clean image. Equally popular is Koshiyari, a Thakur leader, among the members of the state’s dominant Thakur community. So, for the BJP, annoying any of them would mean allowing the sizeable chunk of its vote bank to slip away. Well, no political party would want that to happen ahead of elections. The party, for sure, is no exception.

 By M Mukundan from Dehradun

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