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Uttarakhand Elections 2017: Anil Baluni, The Man Who Could Be King if BJP Wins

Walks are something Baluni loves. In fact, he has been walking all his adult life. From college he walked into journalism, from journalism he walked into politics at a young age of 26. Now 44, he has had a long walk in politics. Not in terms of years; only in terms of the distance he has covered that cuts across a big swathe of India. Distance-wise, he has done a marathon.

Rakesh Bedi | News18.com

Updated:February 10, 2017, 1:03 PM IST
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Uttarakhand Elections 2017:  Anil Baluni, The Man Who Could Be King if BJP Wins
Many in Uttarakhand say Anil Baluni's is the head that could wear the crown. And he has the right credential.
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Dehradun: Anil Baluni hasn't had a spectacular political career. Not the one that suddenly bursts out in the sun and achieves a splendour that becomes the envy of other politicians.

Anil Baluni also does not have the bank of genes that many young politicians in India have their accounts in: dynasty. It's not that his mother or father pushed into the rough and tumble of politics despite his tentativeness and reluctance.

Anil Baluni also does not have the gift of the gab that many rustic Indian politicians enjoy. The fact that a politician is voluble and cracks jokes at the drop of his minion's hanky is considered a big plus in Indian politics. The joke may be risqué, demeaning, denigrating, but being mouthy in our politics is certainly not a cardinal sin.

Anil Baluni is quiet, thoughtful and always weighs his words when he speaks, in public or in private. Not for him: the grandiose gesture or a superfluous statement. He measures, like calories, his words well while breakfasting, while supping with his acolytes; and he will not go over the top making epic and monumental statements while he walks, early morning and at night, to keep his weight in check.

Walks are something Baluni loves. In fact, he has been walking all his adult life. From college he walked into journalism, from journalism he walked into politics at a young age of 26. Now 44, he has had a long walk in politics. Not in terms of years; only in terms of the distance he has covered that cuts across a big swathe of India. Distance-wise, he has done a marathon.

While studying journalism, he was active in student politics and used to hang around Sangh offices in Delhi. There, Sundar Singh Bhandari, the iconic Sangh leader, took a liking to him; and when Bhandari became governor of Bihar he took him along to Patna as his OSD (officer on special duty). That was the time of Lalu's infamous Goonda Raj.

After Bihar, he landed in Gandhinagar following in the footsteps of Bhandari, who was made the governor of Gujarat. This was two years before Modi landed in the state to chart out his meteoric career. Baluni hung around the bylanes of the Sabarmati city doing Bhandari's and the Sangh's bidding and then got bored and came to Dehradun in 2002, two years after the creation of the hill state.

And immediately, not tiring of the east-to-west-and-then-north trudge, he jumped into the electoral fray. Aged 26, he filed for fighting elections for the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly from Kotdwar, a six-hour torturous and back-jolting journey from his home district of Pauri in Garhwal, the place from where many Uttarakhand politicians (from both the Congress and BJP) come. Pauri's Kumaoni rival is Almora, the hometown of current chief minister Harish Rawat.

But Baluni's tryst with electoral politics was cut short as his papers were declared invalid and he was, because of the bizarre order, refereed out of the electoral ring. Baluni was bruised badly, but not beaten. Some say it was a conspiracy on the part of BC Khanduri, a BJP hill grandee and then chief minister, to install his own man there; some just say these things happen in twists and turns of Indian politics. But Baluni has forgotten the slight and moved on. He is not a man to nurse grievances. Even if does, he keeps them well hidden from public.

Generally, politicians are well-versed in the art of bruising and know how to parry knockout punches; many scrapes they are involved in are fuel for their political energies. Baluni's political nous perhaps derives from all the beatings he has taken in his life. Even the invalidation hurt him bad. He took it to all the courts, he even took it to the forensic lab, cleared his name; and now, after so many years, he smiles and says in politics many jibes have to be ignored, many jousts have to be forgotten. Take it on the chin and move ahead. The insults have to be suppressed inside so they could heat up the inner mechanism and provide nutrition to the political brain to deal with opponents, within and without the party.

Baluni's slenderness is now weighed down by a small paunch and he is mighty embarrassed about it. He walks to shed his kilos. The political walk is to acquire more; the evening walks are to work off his calories. He has reduced his calorie intake and increased his paces. At night, after late dinners with his political acolytes of even alone, he circumambulates the circular driveway of the hotel in which he stays in. This walk is easy, he says, a smile playing on his lips, compared to the political walk.

Politics is a jungle. But there too Baluni knows the way of the jungle. After Khanduri kept him on the fringes, the next BJP CM—Ram Pokhriyal Nishank—made him in charge of a forest and environment task force; and there Baluni excelled doing things that brought him ample good press and the notice of India's environmentalists. The forests of Garhwal and Kumaon brought him into the limelight and there he has stayed since then.

Unlike many pahari politicians, Baluni's face is not weathered and he has thick head of hair that is yet to sprout any grey even in early middle age. In politics, he is young and senior politicians advise him to wait a tad more, to hang around for some more time before broadcasting his ambitions.

But Baluni, who has cut his political teeth in the jungles of Uttarakhand, knows how to pursue his quarry. And the quarry can be anything: a political rival, a party brawler or, even, a chief ministerial chair. That is not something he is very open about; his measured words will never let on what he hides in his nicely ticking political heart.

But many in Uttarakhand, in public and private, say Baluni's is the head that could wear the crown. All Uttarakhand chief ministers wore the crown without fighting elections. And the mundane fact that Baluni this time is not contesting elections is cited in his favour. Baluni has the right cred—he has done many rounds and late hours at Sangh offices, is young and politically suave and, most important, he is seen by everyone to be within the shining orbit of the duo of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, who run the party and nation these days.

Only March results will tell whose trumpet will be blown in the hills, but at least in the foothills of Dehradun the orchestra for Baluni is playing out loud and clear.

| Edited by: Nakshab Khan
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