Dehradun: In a major embarrassment to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its Pauri Garhwal MP's son, Manish Khanduri, joined the Congress during Rahul Gandhi's rally here on Saturday. This came two days after the saffron party inducted Tom Vaddakan, the once confidant of UPA president Sonia Gandhi.
Journalist by profession, Manish is the son of former Uttarakhand CM BC Khanduri. According to Congress sources, he could be fielded from the Pauri Garhwal seat which his father Maj Gen (retd) Khanduri presently represents. Senior Khanduri had twice been chief minister of the state and union MoS in late Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.
The clean image of senior Khanduri has been the BJP's USP, which is still banking on his work and charisma to win the seat despite Khanduri’s refusal to contest polls owing to his health.
Ten top leaders of Congress in 2016 had left the party to join BJP. Since then, Congress had been looking for someone whose entry into the party fold could create a buzz. Congress in-charge for Uttarakhand, Anugrah Narayan Singh, said the party will take a call on “how to use” Manish in the elections.
Pauri Garhwal, a hot seat for BJP, has at least four probables. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's son Shaurya is already eyeing the seat. He has been campaigning in the district for over a year and has also set up an NGO.
Besides, Col (retd) Ajay Kothiyal, who worked for Kedarnath reconstruction work is also seeking a ticket. A new name has also cropped up Rear Admiral (retd) OP Rana, who is associated with a right-wing think tank.
Meanwhile, on Friday evening BJP Uttarakhand president Ajay Bhatt and chief minister Trivendra Rawat visited senior Khanduri in New Delhi and tried to convince him to reconsider his decision of not contesting polls. Sources say the duo had also requested a senior BJP leader to pacify the son.
“However, Khanduriji refused to contest polls. He also communicated that he will not interfere (in Manish case)” a leader privy to the development told News18.
BJP president Ajay Bhatt had earlier spoken on the issue saying “Manish was never a party member, therefore, it hardly matters (if he joins Congress)”. However, this is not the case. Leaders are sensing the fallout in this political development. Mahendra Bhatt, BJP MLA from Badrinath, which is part of the Pauri Garhwal Lok Sabha seat, demanded “disciplinary action” against senior Khanduri for being mum on his son’s entry in the Congress.
Khanduri’s daughter Ritu Khanduri is a BJP MLA from the Yamkeshwar seat. She has been keeping a low profile ever since the name of her brother cropped up as Congress nominee.