Arvind Kejriwal Picks Ex-Serviceman as AAP's CM face for Uttarakhand Assembly Polls

While the party has promised clean politics, promotion to spirituality and free power, it has chosen to target BJP but is largely ignoring Congress for now.

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New Delhi: Marking its maiden foray into electoral politics in Uttarakhand, the Aam Aadmi Party today, August 17, declared that a retired Colonel of the Indian Army, Ajay Kothiyal, would be its chief ministerial candidate for the assembly elections due early next year.

Announcing the decision in Dehradun, the party’s national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said people of the state were “fed up with corrupt politicians” and Kothiyal had emerged as the face of the party on the basis of feedback received by it.

AAP’s menu offers spirituality, employment and free power

Kejriwal, who had in July 2021, announced his party’s decision to contest the assembly elections, said AAP would develop the hill state as a spiritual capital for Indians across the world. He also declared that creating more job opportunities for the youth would be another priority for his party.

Kejriwal, who had secured and returned to power in Delhi riding on the success of his electricity schemes, had in July also promised that the Delhi model of governance would be adopted in Uttarakhand as well.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Aam Aadmi Party’s chief ministerial candidate for Uttarakhand elections, retired Col. Ajay Kothiyal, in Dehradun, Tuesday, Aug 17, 2021. Photo: PTI

Kejriwal had promised 300 units of free power in Uttarakhand if his party won the polls in the state. Apart from this he had also promised major improvement in health and school infrastructure for the state.

Kejriwal promises a clean CM

On Tuesday though, Kejriwal stuck to the issue of giving the state a clean polity. He said people were fed up with politicians who only looted the state. “People want a break from politicians who have only looted the state,” he said, adding that the public opinion was now in favour of having a former soldier as the chief minister, as people felt that “he would not spend his tenure filling his coffers but serve them”.

Kothiyal, now 53 years old, is a popular face in Uttarakhand. A well-known mountaineer, he has climbed Mount Everest twice. He is also known for his work on Kedarnath redevelopment. He has also been socially active in the state and has worked with a large number of youth through a foundation.

Incidentally, Uttarakhand has a fairly large population of serving and retired soldiers and along with their families they form a significant chunk of the electorate. In the past other parties, like BJP too – with former chief minister Major General B.C. Khanduri (Retd.) – have tried to appeal to this segment by giving tickets to or projecting them as chief ministerial candidates.

AAP focusing on BJP for the time-being

Incidentally, AAP had on July 1 also announced Kothiyal’s name as its candidate for the by-elections from Gangotri against then BJP chief minster Tirath Singh Rawal. However, in a quick turn of events BJP changed its CM three days later when it gave the post to Pushkar Singh Dhami.

Ajay Kothiyal. Photo: PTI/File

However, with the saffron party in power in the state, Kothiyal had in his first remarks on being projected as the candidate to take on the BJP CM trained his guns at the saffron party and accused it of ruining the state. “BJP ruined Uttarakhand in the last five years. I am fortunate that my party gave me a chance to contest from Gangotri in the bypoll. I have toured several villages of Gangotri. People are very unhappy. I am confident that people will win this time,” he had tweeted.

Before Kejriwal, another senior AAP leader and Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia had also indicated that Kothiyal could be the party’s chief ministerial candidate. During a visit to Uttarakhand, he had stated that Kothiyal was the frontrunner in the race and the formal announcement of his name could come soon.

With the BJP in a disarray owing to quick change of two chief ministers this year – first from Trivendra Singh Rawat to Tirath Singh Rawat in March this year and then from Tirath Rawat to Dhami in July – the AAP is sensing an opportunity to made deep inroads.

However, what it appears to be ignoring, probably deliberately, is that the Congress is no pushover in the state.

Harish Rawat still in play

Unlike in Delhi, where three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s popularity was on the wane in 2013 – primarily due to corruption charges which stuck to her government following the 2010 Commonwealth Games – when it first came to power and formed the government, in Uttarakhand the grand old party is looking at a return under the leadership of former chief minister Harish Rawat.

Harish Rawat was recently heading the Congress’s bid to resolve the differences among its Punjab leaders – chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his Navjot Singh Sidhu. With the issue more or less resolved, Rawat is now expected to again focus all his energy back on Uttarakhand.

Though till earlier this year, there were murmurs of some Congress leaders being opposed to Rawat, who has emerged as another strong leader of the party in the state after N.D. Tiwari and H.N. Bahuguna – with his acceptance in both Kumaon and Garhwal considerable – that opposition appears to have dissipated.

While former Leader of Opposition Indira Hridayesh passed away, the Pradesh Congress Committee president Pritam Singh, who was also against Rawat, was replaced by Ganesh Godiyal in late July. This and the appointment of four working presidents of Congress in the state by party interim president Sonia Gandhi has sent out a clear signal that Rawat has little competition.

Parties will be on the lookout for rebels

Political watchers in the state insist that a lot of disgruntled leaders of both BJP and Congress, who are denied party tickets for the assembly polls or who may have been miffed by their respective parties over the years, may join AAP and try to get tickets. This is where the opportunity would lie for AAP.

Ahead of the 2017 assembly polls a number of Congress leaders in the state had crossed over into the BJP. While some of them were rewarded with high posts, many were not. How and where this  section of leaders may go is also likely to determine the outcome of the state polls.