Uttarakhand: How Pushkar Singh Dhami Played His Role In BJP's Return To Power For Double Engine-II
For the leadership question facing the BJP in state now, the party would do well to remember that PM Modi needs a CM who leads him when he visits the state, and not the other way round.
The day of results of the assembly election 2022 in Uttarakhand brought mixed emotions for chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.
The Bharatiya Janata Party emerged the winner, keeping Congress limited to 19 seats and winning 47 itself. However, Dhami lost his own seat, Khatima, in Uttarakhand's Kumaon region. Though his name is being counted in the list of former CMs who have bitten the dust in elections, Dhami's short stint as chief minister proves that his chapter as CM was different within the BJP and a screaming contrast to that of a former chief minister from Congress, who was claiming to sweep Kumaon.
The "double engine" has returned to the hill state; the ruling party has won two elections in a row -- a first -- since the formation of the state, with Dhami as chief minister. It's a fact more than a conclusion. Dhami insisted that Congress was failing to see the reality in the state. He is the driver who took the double engine to the station.
Who will be the new CM if not Dhami. Here is an answer. PM Modi needs a CM who leads him when he visits the state, not the other way round.
When Dhami became chief minister, the BJP was said to be aiming at improving people's perception in the Kumaon region. As of March 2022, it becomes important to recall that former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat's resignation came after he announced that Gairsain would be made the third commissionerate of Uttarakhand (Kumaon and Garhwal being the other two). The decision to include Almora upset many people in the region and state. BJP's opposition protested. Leaders within the BJP objected to it. The issues of identity and pragmatism reappeared within Kumaon. Dhami as CM and Khatima MLA pressed the communication button. During winter, BJP workers and leaders assessed the ground and intensified their campaign against AAP and Congress and the counter narrative on ground and social media.
Harish Rawat, former chief minister and Congress leader, upped his verbal attacks on the BJP from and around Kumaon prior to the polls.
It was in Dhami's tenure as CM that PM Modi announced that the coming decade belongs to Uttarakhand at a rally in Dehradun.
Results in, BJP's score in Kumaon is 18/29. Congress has won 11. AAP stands at nil in the state. Voters have broken media-created myths, and among these voters are women of Uttarakhand, whose connection and emotion for PM Modi has spoken for PM Modi, the BJP and Dhami. Harish Rawat himself lost Lalkuan to the BJP. Even in defeat from Khatima, Dhami is holding his ground in Dehradun.
A day after the BJP emerged a winner in Uttarakhand, he handed his resignation and that of his cabinet to Governor Lt Gen (retd) Gurmit Singh. Dhami's cabinet colleagues Satpal Maharaj, Ganesh Joshi and Swami Yatiswaranand were present. He also met other cabinet colleagues. A chapter seems to have been over, at least for now. Dhami emerged as the chief minister after a change of guard when (then CM) Teerath Singh Rawat resigned. Teerath Singh Rawat came up as the chief minister after Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned following a set of factors and decisions that did not go down well with the people of the state.
Now, sections of the media have begun their myth-building exercise on who the next chief minister of Uttarakhand will be, following the event of Dhami losing his own assembly segment. A senior leader and spokesperson of the BJP told this author over the phone that work on decisions regarding the name for chief minister could begin next week. Holi-related patience in taking decisions and auspices could play a role here. Pahadis take their holi seriously, and the result day at the BJP office in Dehradun gave a glimpse of what the coming week would be like.
On the result day, Dhami was at the BJP office in Dehradun to celebrate his party's victory barely hours after suffering the setback. He lost to the Congress leader Bhuwan Chandra Kapri. Dhami stood at 44.8 per cent vote share and Kapri at 51.89 per cent. Kapri's winning margin of 6,579 votes isn't something that Dhami or the BJP would be able to overlook when the celebrations settle. Dhami was joined by party workers and his supporters. They celebrated BJP's victory in colour (Holi is round the corner), flowers and traditional music. Dhami wore a smile just as any victorious chief minister would after leading his party to a consecutive win in the state. A supporter was seen holding a portrait of Dhami, done in pencil.
Dhami did not get a clean slate as chief minister. He would pick some baggage of his predecessors and walk with it. Visible pats, encouragement, and the projection as the youth leader -- Dhami got these from PM Modi along with a new set of responsibilities at rallies and occasions.
For the BJP in Uttarakhand, he was the new, newer, newest face of change that would walk the BJP to a seemingly rough journey towards the 2022 assembly election. He became the face of immediate relief, of confidence, of possibilities for the BJP.
The work towards fighting Covid along with the vaccination drive in the state was continuing under Dhami and saw the essential milestones aimed for.
During his tenure as chief minister, Dhami was seen facing challenges that would have seen anyone else fumble.
He promised the priests at the Kedarnath Dham that he would resolve issues related to the shrine board. As a representative of the BJP, his main aim was to respect the local sentiment and during the first week of November, he worked on the issue with support from colleagues on a tight deadline. He said he would resolve the issue by November end. He did it.
The bill to repeal the Devasthanam Board Act was approved by Uttarakhand governor, Lt Gen (Retd) Gurmit Singh.
Dhami walked a tightrope in resolving the matter. PM Modi was to visit Kedarnath. There were auspices involved. The priests had reportedly said that they would intensify protests against the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board — which was the body meant to regulate temples. The scramble began and Dhami was successful in putting an end to the matter. Rudraprayag district has BJP as winner. This includes the Kedarnath assembly seat.
The settling of the issue was crucial for several reasons. He went as representative of Uttarakhand to Uttarakhand; as the representative of the government to a community that's associated with the Kedarnath Dham; how he resolved this issue was being watched by Hindus across India; how he resolved this issue was being watched by other political parties; how he resolved this issue was being watched by the voters of the BJP in the state. Also, as the third CM in a row, he had much to restore for the party among its own supporters.
Next. The Kotdwar chapter involved Dhami's rough patches with forest minister and former Kotdwar MLA Harak Singh Rawat. Dhami and his actions indicated that he was addressing the issues that came up. The announcement to address Rawat's grievance came up. The Dhami-led government sanctioned Rs 25 crore for the construction of a medical college in Kotdwar. When more issues cropped up, barely two months ahead of the polls, Dhami took the tough call and dismissed Rawat from the cabinet. Harak Singh Rawat, expelled from the party, joined Congress. He did not get a ticket there. Rawat's daughter-in-law was defeated by the BJP in Lansdowne.
Next. Prior to his days as chief minister, Dhami was known as Khatima MLA. Khatima falls in the Kumaon region's Udham Singh Nagar district. He was being counted as a representative of Kumaon for the top job in the state. This representation counted to the BJP and would weave along several other sentiments that are important to the BJP, its language and work in the state. Under Dhami, the BJP has been able to keep 18/29, down from 23/29 in 2017 in Kumaon. This, when Udham Singh Nagar, for the impact of the farmer's protest, Almora, for the Gairsain issue, and other districts in the region, for their own set of factors and problems were compelling the BJP to doubt itself, and for the Congress to be upbeat for a "sweep".
As district wise Vidhan Sabha results say for 2022, it could have been worse for the BJP in Kumaon without Dhami as CM. It could have been better for the BJP in Kumaon with early work with Dhami as CM, the writer will delve into details in another article.
Next. Right before the election, Dhami announced that if re-elected, the BJP government will constitute a committee to draft a uniform civil code (UCC). Uttarakhand is a border state. Preserving cultural and religious heritage is one of the concerns. When Dhami made this announcement, he was verbally attacked by the BJP's opposition. On the result day, he mentioned the issue in a statement, after BJP emerged winner comfortably.
Dhami was the CM who saw more happy faces among the MLAs. There is a group within the BJP that wants Dhami to return as CM. There are MLAs of double engine-II who would like to go with a leader from among the MLAs. There is a group within the BJP that has a broader view of the CM post. The view is that BJP CMs work on the same principle and same agenda driven by the welfare of people and the border state, unlike those of other parties.
Dhami losing the Khatima election within BJP's win in Uttarakhand has once again brought the party to leadership-related complexities in a unique way. It seems to be the electorate's way of compelling Uttarakhand BJP to think harder on this one area, which PM Modi's fruitful presence, emotion and work for the state, helps address. PM Modi needs a CM who leads him when he visits the state, not the other way round.
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