Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party was recovering from the blow dealt to it by the Supreme Court earlier this year when it reinstated Congress leader Harish Rawat as Uttarakhand chief minister, the party is facing fresh trouble in the poll-bound hill state.

The BJP’s senior leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshyari has gone into a sulk just when the party needs to present a united face to dethrone the Harish Rawat government in next year’s assembly elections.

Koshyari did not attend the state unit’s core group meeting held in Delhi on Monday to take stock of the BJP’s preparations for the coming assembly polls. All the senior state leaders attended the meeting. Koshyari had also stayed away from last Tuesday’s meeting of the core groups of all state units which was addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

Koshyari is said to be upset at being denied a ministerial berth at the Centre while a far junior Ajay Tamta was accommodated in the Union Cabinet in the last reshuffle. Alternatively, he would like to be projected as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the next assembly election which, according to BJP insiders, appears highly unlikely.

Deflecting the issue

Putting up a brave face, BJP leaders insisted that Koshyari did not attend the core group meetings because he was preoccupied with the party’s ongoing campaign against the Harish Rawat government. However, BJP seniors privately admit that the party would end up paying a heavy price in the assembly elections if a sulking Koshyari decides to keep aloof from the campaign. Described as the chief architect of the BJP in Uttarakhand, the former chief minister enjoys immense support among the party cadres. Koshyari’s marginalisation has inevitably led to a bitter factional war in the state party unit.

BJP leaders from Uttarakhand are still baffled that Modi chose to induct Tamta into his Cabinet and not Koshyari given the latter’s seniority and experience. They said if Tamta was picked because he is a Dalit, it is unlikely to help the BJP in Uttarakhand as the state does not have a large schedule caste population.

Pointing to the contradictory stand taken by the party in Uttarakhand, the BJP’s state leaders said they had run a campaign against chief minister Harish Rawat for ignoring leaders from the Garhwal region and only promoting leaders from Kumaon and yet Modi chose to induct Tamta from Kumaon into his Cabinet. They also recalled that the BJP had upped the ante on the “Kumaon vs Garhwal” issue when Congress rebels, including Vijay Bahuguna, joined their party. Noting that the Congress leaders had left the party in protest against the step-motherly treatment meted out to Garhwal, the BJP promised to take corrective measures and ensure fair representation for all regions.

UP precedent

Koshyari’s supporters compare him to former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh who had a strong caste base and had led the BJP to victory in the state. “ The BJP’s fortunes dwindled after Kalyan Singh was ousted by the leadership and the party has failed to recover since then,” said a BJP leader from Uttarakhand. He maintained that their state will go the same way as Uttar Pradesh if the party’s Central leadership does not step in to mollify Koshyari.

Time is running out as the state is going to polls early next year. If it puts its house in order, the BJP could still put up a credible fight in these polls, especially since the Uttarakhand Congress is also wracked by factionalism. Rawat is in the eye of a storm as his detractors are unhappy with his authoritarian style of functioning. Leaders of the two camps were called in for a meeting by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi last week where they were exhorted to sink their differences and work together.