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AAP’s Uttarakhand CM face Col Ajay Kothiyal joins BJP, calls it ‘mid-course correction’

Joining the BJP along with many state AAP members including its ex-working president Bhupesh Upadhyay, Ajay Kothiyal told a press conference that his move to join the AAP was a “wrong emotional decision”, which he has rectified, he said, by joining the saffron party.

Written by Avaneesh Mishra | Dehradun |
Updated: May 24, 2022 9:53:22 pm
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and State BJP President Madan Kaushik present a bouquet to former AAP leader Colonel Ajay Kothiyal (retd) after he joined BJP, in Dehradun, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (PTI)

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s chief ministerial face in the recent Uttarakhand Assembly polls, Colonel Ajay Kothiyal (retired) Tuesday joined the BJP at its state party headquarters in Dehradun in the presence of CM Pushkar Singh Dhami. He had quit the AAP six days ago.

Joining the BJP along with many state AAP members including its ex-working president Bhupesh Upadhyay, Kothiyal told a press conference that his move to join the AAP was a “wrong emotional decision”, which he has rectified, he said, by joining the saffron party.

“When I was with the AAP or when I worked for the renovation of Kedarnath Dham, I was never in front of so many cameras. I am a little hesitant, but I can say that there is peace in my heart. We are all human and sometimes we make a decision emotionally. Sometimes those decisions are right, but sometimes they turn out to be wrong. If we realise mid-course that we have made a wrong decision, we should make a correction and that is the wise thing to do,” he said.

On April 19 last year, the AAP supremo and Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, had declared Kothiyal as the party’s CM candidate for the February 2022 Uttarakhand Assembly polls. Kejriwal had then said that Kothiyal served in the Indian Army and fought against terrorists, Pakistan, and enemies of the country, adding, “He still has two bullets in his body. He fought against terror and guarded the country’s frontiers when politicians were busy looting Uttarakhand.”

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The AAP however failed to win a single seat in the polls, coming fourth with just 3.31 per cent votes behind the BJP (44.33 per cent), Congress (37.91 per cent) and BSP (4.82 per cent). Kothiyal himself lost his deposit from the Gangotri constituency, garnering just 6161 votes as against the winning BJP candidate Suresh Singh Chauhan’s 29,619 votes and the Congress nominee Vijaypal Singh Sajwan’s 21,590 votes.

Kothiyal, 53, claimed he liked the AAP’s “working culture” initially, but soon realised it would not serve Uttarakhand’s welfare. He said CM Dhami made him “feel comfortable” and welcomed him.

Dhami said he welcomed into the BJP fold a soldier who established the AAP in Uttarakhand. “His (Kothiyal’s) behaviour was never according to that party (AAP), and even though we were on the opposite ends, we never made any comments on him… When Col Kothiyal and others left AAP, a campaign has now started from Uttarakhand to remove AAP from the entire country,” he said.

In his resignation letter to Kejriwal that he had tweeted, Kothiyal stated, “I have been a member of the Aam Aadmi Party from 19 April 2021 till today, 18 May 2022. Keeping in the mind the feelings of former soldiers, former paramilitary, elders, women, youth and intellectuals, I am sending my resignation from the party membership.”

A mountaineer and philanthropist, Kothiyal was part of the first successful team of the Indian Army, led by Brigadier Krishan Kumar, that successfully climbed Mount Everest in 2001. The President of India later awarded him Shaurya Chakra for successfully leading a team of seven female officers to scale Mount Everest for the second time.

Months before the disaster struck Kedarnath valley in 2013, Kothiyal was appointed the head of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarakhand. Given its geographical proximity, he was one of the early responders to the Kedarnath disaster. He formed five rescue teams of 20 people each, including soldiers of 109 Engineer Regiment, and rescued around 6,500 tourists. Later, the state government assigned to him the task of reconstructing the yatra route. His team worked for its reconstruction following which he came to be known as “Bhole ka fauzi”. His trust “Youth Foundation” trains youngsters from Uttarakhand to join the Indian army.

Kothiyal started his stint with the Army in 1992 and is best known for his operations in 2001-02 in Kashmir, where he neutralised 17 terrorists. He had been awarded various medals including Kirti Chakra and a special service medal. He retired from the Army in 2018 as a Colonel.

The Uttarakhand AAP hit out at Kothiyal, with its state organisation coordinator Jot Singh Bisht saying that he validated their suspicion by joining the ruling party. “More than once Col Kothiyal named BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya in his speech today. This shows that there was something going on for a long time. Kothiyal ji failed to give a single reason as to why he left AAP, showing that our party gave him respect. He also named several BJP leaders he had relations with while working in Kedarnath. If that is the case then there is an apparent question as to why he joined AAP. Was it as per his own will or he was sent by the BJP? He should not have joined AAP if he had such a long relationship with BJP leaders,” he said.

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