CM Swap Yet Again in Uttarakhand

Indresh Maikhuri

With hardly six months left for the Uttarakhand Assembly elections, the ruling BJP has replaced the State’s Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ with BC Khanduri. 
When the BJP came to power in 2007, Khanduri was made CM. When BJP lost all five seats of the State to the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Khanduri was removed, but replaced by Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’.
In Nishank’s rule, forgeries and scams became commonplace. The CAG Report exposed how Rs.200 crore was swindled in the Haridwar Mahakumbh in 2010. There were also allegations of scandals in allotment of 56 power projects. BJP’s own District Panchayat President from Tehri, Ratan Singh Gunsola, accused that he was asked to pay Rs.2 crore as a bribe for allotment of a power project! As the heat over these scandals increased, all the 56 allotments were cancelled. The Nishank Govt was also embarrassed by the exposure of the fraud involved in transfer of Citurgia Biochemicals’ land to Sturdia Developers, a matter which came to the courts. Hundreds of crores, received from the Centre for disaster relief, were siphoned off to fill ministers’ personal coffers. The death of Swami Nityananda brought the question of illegal sand mining and criminal mining mafia to the fore. 
But now, the RSS and BJP, eager to ride the anti-corruption wave against the Congress, are eager to first jettison any embarrassing baggage and at least put up an appearance of being ‘clean’. First, Yeddyurappa’s head rolled in Karnataka. And now Nishank was the next to go.
Lt. General TPS Rawat, known to be close to Khanduri, left BJP in August this year, gathered ex-army officials and bureaucrats and announced the formation of his own party – the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha. BJP realised that the ex-servicemen’s vote, which is significant in the State, would slip away from it if Major General Khanduri also went the way of Lt General TPS Rawat, and so placated Khanduri by choosing him to replace Nishank.
After being re-appointed CM, Khanduri has announced a new ministry - Suraj, Bhrastachar Unmulan va Janseva (good governance, anti-corruption and public service). It is another matter that his cabinet members are all the same that were (dis)gracing the Nishank Government, most of whom are facing quite serious charges of corruption! 
Khanduri has also announced his intention to introduce a strong Lokayukta bill. Action on the reports of the serving Lokayukta, is not even on the horizon, since these have not even been placed before the State’s Legislative Assembly in last five years; and Khanduri was CM for two of those five years.
When Khanduri was Union Surface Transport and Roadways Minister in the Vajpayee Government, he is said to have contributed Rs. 300 crore to BJP’s coffers. It was during his tenure that Satyendra Dubey, a whistleblower and an honest engineer, was murdered for writing to the PM about corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral NH project. Even BJP people speak of Khanduri’s corrupt nexus with IAS officer Prabhat Kumar Sarangi. During his previous tenure, opposition parties also accused him of getting Rs. 50 crores from liquor businesses and donating it to BJP’s UP election fund. This charge gained more substance when his then Government advanced the closing time for liquor shops from 8 pm to 9 pm without any explanation. Rs 9 crore was openly handed over to Advani during the Lok Sabha election.
When Khanduri was flexing his muscle and threatening to quit the BJP in the wake of TPS Rawat’s exit, the third front ‘team’ comprising the Pawar faction of the UKD, the CPI and ex-MLA Munna Singh Chauhan (who has been in SP, BJP and BSP) got their hopes up that they had found their captain. One State-level leader of CPI in fact went so far as to issue an appeal through the print media inviting Khanduri to lead the third front. This hope was shattered with Khanduri becoming BJP’s CM!

Both the times Khanduri was sworn in as CM, his first act has been to touch the feet of ND Tiwari – the Congress CM who institutionalised corruption in the state. The BJP may change the CM, but they cannot change the fact that BJP Governments in the state share with their Congress predecessors a strong bond of continuity with corruption and corporate plunder.