Tirath Singh Rawat sworn in as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand

With Assembly elections just a year away, Trirath replaces Trivendra Singh Rawat, his predecessor, in a move that is both abrupt and awkward
Tirath Singh Rawat, Lok Sabha (LS) Member of Parliament from Pauri Garhwal, on Wednesday took oath as the new Chief Minister (CM) of Uttarakhand, solving one problem for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP,) but creating many more.

With Assembly elections just a year away, Trirath replaces Trivendra Singh Rawat, his predecessor, in a move that is both abrupt and awkward. Trivendra had steered the state for four years, managed the difficult task of creating Uttarakhand’s new capital, Gairsain, and was set to celebrate the BJP government’s fourth year in power (on March 18) when he was axed, ostensibly in response to criticism over his ‘style of functioning’.

With 57 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) out of 70 in the Assembly, Trivendra had a serious problem in accommodating all the interests the BJP now represents: and as the objective numerical reality in the Assembly has not changed, the chances are his successor will have the same problems as discontented MLAs give vent to their frustration at their ‘powerlessness’ and demand ministerships.

Trivendra did not resign without a fight. A dozen party MLAs have been camping in Delhi for the past several weeks, many of them considered close to him. He did his best to convince party president J P Nadda that he had things under control and that those opposing him were doing so because of his policy of zero tolerance to corruption. But he failed to put his point across. When he realised he had no option, he tried to curtail the damage and get his aide, Education Minister Dhan Singh Rawat, to replace him. The more he tried to underscore that the new CM must be from among the MLAs, the more the party leadership was convinced it should be an outsider.

Party leaders say that is how Tirath came into the picture — he is not an MLA (which means the BJP will have to get an MLA to resign to vacate an Assembly seat that the new CM can contest within six months, even as state elections are held within the next six). And he will have months to take charge of the state and run it. It is hard to see how the BJP can better its record of 57 out of 70 seats in the Assembly. So the blame for any seat deficit will inevitably be laid at the door of the new incumbent.

The BJP government in Uttarakhand has many challenges ahead. Apart from the rehabilitation of those struck by the Chamoli hydel disaster and ongoing rehabilitation of the victims of the natural disasters at Kedarnath (2013), the government has to steer new investment proposals granted by the central government and speed up the pace of infrastructure projects. The Kumbh at Haridwar in April will be held under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. It will require organisation and arrangements of an order never seen before to ensure the infection rates do not spike, as devotees pour into Haridwar from all over India. The first Char Dham Yatra will begin in May. This will have to be closely monitored and will require extensive organisation.

Tirath was education minister in the state when it was formed. He was elected MLA in the 2007 Assembly elections, but was moved to handle party responsibilities in 2013 when he was named president of the state unit of the party. He continued in that position till 2015. As state BJP president, he won four mayoral posts in municipal corporations out of six for the party. He represented Chaubattakhal legislative constituency, which is currently held by the BJP. When he first entered politics, he was a novitiate of former BJP leader and CM, General B C Khanduri. But things unraveled to the point where he contested the Pauri Garhwal LS seat in 2019 against Khanduri’s son Manish, who was the Opposition Congress candidate and lost, sending Tirath to the LS.

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