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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Uphill battle for Khanduri’s daughter, against Cong leader who beat him

Khanduri first came to state politics with the plaudits of having piloted the A B Vajpayee government's grand national highways development plan as Union minister.

Written by Avaneesh Mishra | Dehradun |
Updated: February 1, 2022 12:30:57 am
In 2022, Ritu Khanduri Bhushan is now in the field fighting a fight her father once lost.

In the political history of Uttarakhand, former chief minister Major General (Retd) B C Khanduri is one of the tallest leaders. In 2022, his loyalists now with other parties, his daughter Ritu Khanduri Bhushan is now in the field fighting a fight her father once lost.

Khanduri first came to state politics with the plaudits of having piloted the A B Vajpayee government’s grand national highways development plan as Union minister. A Brahmin, he enjoyed the support of the state’s other dominant caste, Thakurs, even as his Army background helped among Uttarakhand’s large defence population.

In 2007, the second Assembly election of Uttarakhand, the BJP had named Khanduri Chief Minister after it won and formed the government. However, just years later, after losing the Lok Sabha elections, it had replaced Khanduri with Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’. The latter, in turn, lasted two years as well, as the BJP, under pressure from partymen who coined the slogan “Khanduri hai zoroori (Khanduri is needed)” brought Khanduri back five months to go for the 2012 Assembly polls.

Despite the flip-flops at the top, the BJP had come within winning distance – a performance largely attributed to Khanduri. However, with one seat more than the BJP, the Congress had formed the government. Adding insult to Khanduri’s injury, he had himself lost from Kotdwar to the Congress’s Surendra Singh Negi, reaffirming an Uttarakhand belief that its sitting CM never retains his or her seat.

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Since then, Khanduri has virtually receded into the background. Now 89, he is battling health issues and largely stays at home.

In 2017, the BJP had wrested back Kotdar, with Harak Singh Rawat defeating Negi. While Harak is now in the Congress, and has not got a ticket, Negi is again in the race as a Congress candidate, against Khanduri’s daughter Ritu.

While Ritu had won in 2017 from Yamkeshwar, the BJP shifted her to Kotdwar this time, making this a prestige battle of sorts for the Khanduris.

BJP sources said Ritu wasn’t too pleased with the change. Yamkeshwar would have been a safe seat for her, having been always won by women Brahmin candidates. However, the BJP chose Congress turncoat Renu Bisht for the seat, and Ritu was in no position to resist.

Plus, sources said, internal surveys indicated Ritu was not very popular at Yamkeshwar, seen as spending most of her time away. Ritu’s husband is senior IAS officer and Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, one of the crucial officials in the Centre’s anti-Covid efforts.

Ritu says her father remains as relevant as ever in Uttarakhand as he has worked for the state and brought it development. “I want to continue that tradition. My politics in the last five years has been about development,” she says, adding that she often consults him.

Negi will be a challenge, as will be the seat change, Ritu accepts, adding she is ready for it.

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