By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 20 Jan: Denial of ticket to 10 sitting MLAs in the first list of 59 candidates declared today by the BJP for Uttarakhand can, at first look, be declared as a bold step but political analysts claim that the step lacks enough boldness. They claim that the BJP and the Sangh led internal surveys undertaken in the past two months had been clearly indicating strong anti-incumbency against some more MLAs but the party has shied away from denying tickets to them under apprehension of rebellion. However, the truth is that rebellion is already visible even in cases where some sitting MLAs have been repeated in the first list of candidates. While it is true that to change candidates is always a risky proposition but for a ruling party fighting the polls to retain power, it does become a necessary exercise even if it is always easier said than done.
The 10 sitting MLAs who have been denied ticket include some prominent names such as Ritu Khanduri, who is daughter of former CM BC Khanduri, and represents Yamkeshwar. She had not been active enough according to the party insiders and there was some anti-incumbency factor working against her. In two cases, tickets have been denied to the sitting MLAs but given to the family member. Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion, the Khanpur MLA, has been rather controversial and in between had even been suspended from the party for some time. He has been denied the ticket but it has been given to his wife, Devyani Singh. In the other case, Kashipur MLA Harbhajan Singh Cheema has been replaced by his son, Trilok Singh Cheema. Sources claim that HS Cheema was himself campaigning for the ticket to his son. Interestingly though, Cheema originally represents the Shiromani Akali Dal of Punjab with which BJP’s alliance is already over. But he has still been accepted by the BJP.
The party has stuck to its declared policy of one family one ticket even more strictly and under this policy has denied ticket to last time candidate Madhu Chauhan from Chakrata, who is wife of Vikasnagar MLA Munna Singh Chuhan. She had given a very tough fight to Chakrata incumbent Pritam Singh. Instead of her, BJP has chosen to field Ramsharan Nautiyal, father of Bollywood singer Jubin Nautiyal. Nautiyal has been in the Congress in the past.
Another sitting MLA denied the ticket is Munni Devi Shah from Tharali, who had won the by-election after her MLA husband’s death. She has now been replaced by Bhupalram Tamta. The ticket to Tamta has resulted in some rebellion in the party. Balbir Singh Ghuniyal has declared that he will contest the election as an independent now. Ghuniyal has been a senior leader and office bearer in the State BJP and has been demanding the party ticket since 2007.
In Dehradun, two changes are expected. Trivendra Singh Rawat is not contesting the assembly polls as a sitting MLA from Doiwala. Party sources claim that the brother of late General Bipin Rawat, Col (Retd) Vijay Rawat, who has just joined the BJP, may be given the ticket from Doiwala. The second change was necessitated by death of the sitting MLA from Dehradun Cantt, Harbans Kapoor. Though there was a long list of contenders from Dehradun Cantt this time as the seat had fallen vacant after long, the party chose to field Savita Kapoor, the wife of Harbans Kapoor. Party insiders claim that this is the safest bet for the party. Others like Vinod Chamoli, Ganesh Joshi, Sahdev Pundir, Umesh Sharma ‘Kau’, Prem Chand Agarwal (Rishikesh) were automatic choices. Khajan Das is a rather surprising repetition, according to the political pundits.
The ticket to Pritam Singh Panwar instead of former party MLA Mahavir Ranghar from Dhanolti has again resulted in Ranghar declaring that he would contest as an independent.
Some names retained by the party in the first list have evoked strong reactions from within the party. One such is that Vinod Kandari, representing the Deoprayag constituency. BJP insiders claim that there is not only a very strong anti-incumbency against the sitting MLA but also that Kandari has been unable to keep the local party cadre happy. Sona Sajwan and Magan Singh Bist also figured in the panel of three names forwarded by the Uttarakhand unit of the party to the Central Parliamentary Board but the party ultimately chose to retain Kandari as candidate. Magan Singh Bist, who was a strong contender for the ticket this time, and if his claims are to be believed, his name figured above that of the sitting MLA Kandari, has already declared that he will contest the polls as a rebel candidate.
Another name is that of Tehri MLA Dhan Singh Negi. The party cadre claims that during much of his term Negi has been inactive as a public representative and that there is strong anti-incumbency against him in Tehri. Yet another such is Khajan Das, who is the sitting MLA from Rajpur reserved constituency. Many in the party openly claim that there is a strong anti incumbency against the sitting MLA while the former MLA, Rajkumar of Congress, has been gaining strength. This would again be an interesting contest.
BJP has sprung a major surprise in Purola. When the sitting MLA, Rajkumar from the Congress, had joined the BJP, it was assumed that he would be granted the ticket. The party has however chosen to field Durgesh Lal, who also joined the party recently. It remains to be seen if Congress fields rebel BJP candidate and former MLA Malchand or some other person from there. It also remains to be seen if Rajkumar too enters the contest as a rebel candidate. Pushkar Singh Dhami from Khatima, Subodh Uniyal from Narendra Nagar, Satpal Maharaj from Chaubattakhal, Arvind Pandey from Gadarpur were natural choices while Dhan Singh Rawat has been repeated from Srinagar despite speculation that he was lobbying for a constituency change.
The party is yet to declare candidates on 11 constituencies and at least two more sitting MLAs may be denied tickets in the final list according to highly placed sources.