The BJP romped to a landslide win in Uttarakhand, which surprised many though all exit polls had predicted precisely this result. The three previous Assembly elections in Uttarakhand have all been close contests between Congress and BJP and most analysts believed things would be the same once again. However, the BJP swept the polls in an unprecedented manner, winning nearly 60 out of 70 seats.
However, the key question for many was never if BJP would win the election; it was always going to be — who would be the state's new chief minister after the BJP wins. There are already half a dozen aspirants for the throne, and they have each begun campaigning for the top spot.
The early frontrunner is Vijay Bahuguna. The former chief minister rebelled from the Congress with nine MLAs and joined BJP in the summer of 2016. All nine have won their respective constituencies. This is the best chance for Bahuguna to stake his claim to the CM's throne once again. It's believed that he, along with his 10 supporters, will bargain strong with the party leadership.
Ironically, Bahuguna didn't contest elections himself though his son Saurabh did, and even won the Sitarganj seat by a heavy margin.
Bahuguna's strongest competition will come from Satpal Maharaj, another former Congressman who had defected to the BJP three years ago. He is said to be in close contact with RSS leaders in Nagpur and the party's top brass in New Delhi. He too has his team of supporters, especially in the Chamoli and Pauli districts of the Garhwal hills.
When tickets were being distributed and Maharaj was given a ticket, there was a buzz in political circles within BJP and around the state that he may even be projected as the official chief ministerial candidate. But the party's central leadership decided to keep its cards close to its chest. This buzz did help Maharaj become the frontrunner, however.
Then, there are three more former chief ministers in the party — BC Khanduri, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and Ramesh Pokriyal Nishank. All three are Lok Sabha MPs from Garhwal, Nainital and Haridwar seats respectively. They were denied tickets for the Assembly elections, as it was felt BJP didn't want to officially announce a CM candidate before the election.
But now that victory is secure, any of these claimants would stand an equal chance of becoming the state's next chief minister. Khanduri may be overlooked on account of his advancing age; he is over 70. But Koshiyari and Pokhriyal, given the party's good performance from the seats part of their Lok Sabha constituency, would certainly be licking their lips in anticipation.
Pokhriyal, MP from Haridwar, would have an especially good chance given the fact that his constituency contains 11 Assembly seats, the largest of all seats in Uttarakhand. Koshiyari enjoys good support in the Kumaon region. It's considered to be his stronghold, and given that he is a prominent Rajput leader, the caste equation may also play in his favour.
BJP state president, the man in charge of the Assembly election committee, and the leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, Ajay Bhatt, is also in the race. He is a prominent partyman and was actively involved when the previous Congress government was in power. However, he lost from Ranikhet to Congress' Karan Mahara, and that may impact his own chances of becoming chief minister.
BJP's national executive member Trivendra Rawat has also silently entered the race. He is the party's candidate from the Doiwala seat, and secured a comfortable win.
However, it ultimately depends on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party national president Amit Shah, and who they think is best suited to lead the party in Uttarakhand. The RSS' stamp of approval will also determine the new CM's candidature. The BJP government at the state will, after all, will be closely tied to the RSS.
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Updated Date: Mar 11, 2017 19:26:47 IST