IN the wake of protests over the Ankita Bhandari murder and the recruitment scam in Uttarakhand, the BJP is set to make changes in the state government and the party’s state unit to save its face but will retain Pushkar Dhami as Chief Minister, sources said on Saturday.
Alarmed over the protests and intensifying murmurs in the party as well as in the RSS over the recent developments in Uttarakhand, BJP’s national leadership is keen to “resolve the issues soon” in the hill-state, as the party does not want “sore thumb” or “troubles” in one of its politically and ideologically significant states, according to sources.
BJP national general secretary (Organisation) B L Santhosh, who had had a detailed discussion with Dhami during the CM’s recent visit to Delhi, is in Uttarakhand at present and is “taking stock” by meeting leaders from different camps in the faction-hit state unit.
Those close to Dhami claim the CM wants to see both the government and state BJP to come clean by removing and replacing the “disturbing elements”, but his critics say Dhami may see in this crisis an opportunity to place his close associates in key positions.
Sources said Dhami will effect a reshuffle in his Cabinet soon and there will be changes in BJP’s state unit, too. But the party national leadership is unlikely to change Mahendra Bhatt, who took over in July as BJP state president.
During his last visit, sources said Dhami could not meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah but they discussed the issues in the state over telephone. Besides Dhami, several senior BJP leaders, including former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, senior leaders Dhan Singh Rawat and Satpal Maharaj, have also met party’s central leaders and given their accounts on the current state of affairs in the Uttarakhand unit, sources said.
The BJP has been beleaguered by widespread public protests against the state government’s response to the murder of Ankita Bhandari, an employee at a resort owned by Pulkit Arya, son of former BJP minister Vinod Arya. With opposition Congress taking up the issue at the national level, BJP has expelled both from the party.
But some party leaders have questioned the way the state government reacted initially to the case — the party acted only after public protests deepened, sources said. The crisis hit the party at a time when it was already grappling with disenchantment over the recruitment scam, which allegedly involved some BJP leaders, too.
Although there has been concern over the recent panchayat election results, in which Independent candidates made significant gains — of 44, BJP won 13 and Independents bagged 17 — party sources in Delhi said BJP’s tally has gone up from four to 13. “There has been consolidation of Muslim votes and BSP support base,” one BJP leader said.
Dhami was first appointed CM six months before the Assembly polls earlier this year, replacing Tirath Rawat, following protests from the state unit. Tirath Rawat was appointed in March 2021, replacing Trivendra Singh Rawat.
Dhami was re-appointed as CM despite losing his Assembly seat in the election, which BJP won with a clear majority. Dhami, who was in Delhi twice during the last fortnight, has told the leadership that the changes are necessary to keep the government’s image clean.