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New Delhi: With the sitting chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami of BJP losing his own election, there is suspense in Uttarakhand over whether the party will retain him in the post. Questions have arisen in the last two days as to whether or not the party will give him the credit for the party’s victory and let him continue. With continuing uncertainty, the number of hopefuls for the coveted post have gone up in the last 48 hours.
Although Dhami was brought in a couple of months before the elections – following unceremonious exits of two chief ministers before him in quick succession – he led the party to victory, by winning 47 out of 70 assembly segments.
In a way, Dhami is among the long list of former chief ministers of Uttarakhand who never won their (re-)election while being in office. The jinx has followed every incumbent chief minister since the state came into being in 2000. Dhami of the BJP proved no different to this quirk of ill-fate.
However, the victorious BJP this time around has been able to break another jinx with the victory of its education minister Arvind Pandey. No other education minister in the past emerged victorious in their re-election bid.
As for Dhami – who became the state’s youngest chief minister at 45 when he was nominated by the party to be at the helm of affairs in July last year – faced drubbing in the hands of Congress state working president Bhuwan Chandra Kapri by 6,579 votes from Khatima assembly segment.
Following his defeat, Dhami submitted his resignation to the governor. He has been asked to take care of the affairs as a caretaker chief minister until a successor is sworn-in.
This has naturally given rise to questions as to whether the party will retain him or not, or will it opt for a change.
While the party leadership has by and large been silent on the issue, the only exception has been the remark of defence minister Rajnath Singh who equated Dhami to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, saying “he is a good finisher” – referring to the fact that he has steered the party to victory.
Meanwhile, Manvir Singh Chauhan, party state media in-charge, said Kailash Chandra Gahtori, who won from Champawat, and Suresh Gariya, who won from Kapkot, have offered to give up their seats for Dhami.
As was seen in the past, there is no bar on anyone from becoming a chief minister who is not a member of the legislature as per Article 164 (4) of the constitution. However, it states that a minister (even chief minister) who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the legislature of the state shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a minister. Before the expiry of such period, the person concerned should get themselves elected to the House within six months of becoming a minister or chief minister.
It maybe recalled that last year Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister, lost her own election although she steered her party to victory in the state elections. However, she took over as chief minister and got herself elected to the state legislative assembly before the expiry of the said six-month period.
No dearth of CM candidates
On the day of counting no sooner did Dhami begin trailing by a big margin and with that margin began to widen, it set off a discussion among the party circles over the probables for the post of the chief minister.
Among the aspirants are both prominent central and state leaders of the party, including Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, former chief minister and former union minister; and state ministers Satpal Maharaj and Dhan Singh Rawat.
Incidentally, there appears to be no dearth of leaders in the party who could take over the chief minister – party state unit president Madan Kaushik; Speaker Premchand Aggarwal; and other cabinet ministers Subodh Uniyal, Ganesh Joshi, Banshidhar Bhagat and Arvind Pandey have won their elections and vying for the top post.
Then there are other prominent party leaders like Union minister of state for defence and tourism and party MP Ajay Bhatt whose names also figured in the past whenever the issue of selection of chief minister arose. But be it in 2017, when the BJP finally chose Trivendra Singh Rawat for the post, or when Tirath Singh Rawat was brought in as CM in March 2021 to replace him, or even when Dhami replaced Tirath in July 2021, every time such speculations fell flat on the face.
In that case, Dhami retaining the post appears to be a certainty. It also shows that the party leadership recognises the fact that the chief minister, like other candidates, cannot concentrate on the election in his constituency alone.
From performing duties as chief minister to campaigning for other candidates across the state, and being seen with the senior leaders when they come for campaigning, he or she is required to devote time and energy elsewhere too.
Dhami may also get another look in as he was brought in only last year and that too at a time when the party had faced much embarrassment due to the conduct of its previous two chief ministers. In the short span of around eight months, Dhami not only addressed the protests by the priests against the Char Dham Devasthanam Board but he also worked hard to restore the damage caused by the party’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the Dharam Sansad in Hardwar and the farmers’ agitation.
In doing so, he managed to arrest the decline of the BJP. It remains to be seen if the party would return him the favour.