Monday, September 12, 2011

Change of Reign in Uttarakhand: Khanduri Sworn in as Chief Minister

Major General Bhuvan Chander Khanduri (retired) has been sworn in as the sixth Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, replacing Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who was dumped by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) high command, which is desperately looking to refurbish the party’s image for the forthcoming Assembly elections in the state.
Reason Behind Exit of Nishank
The departure of Nishank as the state’s chief minister of poll-bound Uttarakhand is a reminder that in politics, timing is everything, as is perception. It was primarily because of timing that the writer-turned-politician was shown the door so swiftly by the BJP. With Assembly elections just months away, the party thought a last-minute image makeover could turn the tide in its favor. Also, at a time when it is planning an all-out offensive against the UPA over corruption, the BJP felt Nishank could become a baggage, burdened as he is with an image of inefficiency amid allegations about corruption in his government.
Possibility of Midterm Polls
Senior BJP leader L K Advani is set to roll out his rath to take on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over corruption. The party hopes to build a nationwide movement amid a perception, right or wrong, that a midterm general election cannot be ruled out, and as such it cannot afford skeletons in its closet.
In the Uttarakhand BJP, known for infighting, many battles were fought between B C Khanduri and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari before Nishank took over -- ironically from Khanduri who has succeeded him now -- following the rout in the Lok Sabha elections. The two stalwarts have since buried the hatchet and joined hands in getting Nishank out of the way.
The 53-year-old debutant chief minister's style of functioning had led to many complaints. As for the allegations of corruption around his government, these range from irregularities in the award of hydroelectric power projects -- 56 of them had to scrapped after an uproar and resulted in a huge loss -- to a controversy over the change of the pattern of land use by a pharmaceutical company. There are, however, no allegations of corruption against Nishank specifically.
In the award of hydel projects, the allegation was that those who secured the contracts were not technically qualified and did not meet the terms and conditions. There were instances of some of them having allegedly furnished false addresses. Allegations of corruption also flew over Citurgia Biochemicals allegedly changing a land use pattern to facilitate a housing project.
"It is not just the issue of irregularities in award of hydro-electric projects. We have been alleging that there was misuse of funds allocated for organizing the Kumbh Mela and provided for disaster relief. Everybody knows about the land scam too," said T P S Rawat, who last month resigned from the BJP to float a regional outfit. Rawat said he had written to BJP chief Nitin Gadkari and Advani a year ago drawing their attention to corruption.
Nishank was called to Delhi several times and asked to work overtime to change the perceptions around him and the negative mood against the government. One complaint was that he had cornered most of the key portfolios. Nishank was directed to give up most of those and mend fences with Khanduri and Koshiyari, who wanted a person with an unblemished record at the helm.
The winds started blowing harder against Nishank about two months ago after Gadkari asked Rajnath Singh, aided by general secretary Dharmendra Pradhan, was sent to oversee election preparations in Uttarakhand. The feedback the two got was followed by a detailed survey. Sources said the findings were disappointing. The survey predicted "we would not fare well in the elections", a leader said.
The image of the BJP and the Nishank government had hit a low. He was inefficient, a Central leader said. Then there was the perception of corruption at all levels of government. "The common man had to pay a bribe at every walk of life. This is a reality," a party leader admitted.
Antyodaya Vikas Yatra
Yet Nishank, who has found support from Rajnath Singh and senior leader Arun Jaitley, as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was confident. He had begun his campaign, launching his Antyodaya Vikas Yatra -- the third phase of which had begun just days ago. Amid all this came the exit of Rawat, an ex-servicemen who started attracting a large number of his supporters to his newly formed party.
When this was accompanied by speculation that Khanduri could follow suit, it forced the party to sit up and take notice. The party, which had already shown B S Yeddyurappa the door, acted at a time when Advani was set to start his yatra and Congress leaders were referring to Uttarakhand whenever the BJP attacked the UPA over corruption.
It is said that a change of guard would work in the party's favor, both at the national and at the state level.

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