Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat resigns, wants namesake at helm

Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat. Photo: @tsrawatbjp
In a day of dramatic developments, Uttarakhand Chief Minister (CM) Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced it had convened a meeting of the legislature party on Wednesday morning to elect a new CM. While Rawat would like his man, Dhan Singh Rawat, to succeed him, there are a host of candidates for the job, including former CM and Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, party leader Anil Baluni, state Cabinet minister Satpal Maharaj, Uttarakhand BJP General Secretary Suresh Bhatt, and Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar Member of Parliament (MP) Ajay Bhatt, as senior leaders say “all options are open”.  

Rawat’s exit is both humiliating for him and unusual: humiliating because till earlier in the week, he was at the state’s new capital, Gairsain, where he had convened a meeting of the Assembly; and he was in the middle of putting final touches to plans to celebrate four years of the BJP’s rule in the state due on March 18. On Tuesday morning, he had to requisition the government chopper to fly down from Gairsain, hurriedly adjourn the Assembly session, and hand in his resignation to Governor B R Maurya, following directions from the party high command. Moreover, just days ago, the party leadership appeared to have issued a vote of confidence in his leadership: state unit in-charge Dushyant Gautam had refuted the reports of leadership change and had said “there is no reason to replace Rawat”. 

The BJP has a problem of plenty in Uttarakhand. It won a landslide victory in the 2017 Assembly election, the first such victory for any party since 2000 when the state was formed. Because of its massive tally (57 out of the 70-member Assembly), the party had no need for help from the Independents or smaller parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal associated with the creation of the state and a group which had always acted as a pressure group. Despite that, Rawat faced the axe. It suggests the problem of dissidence has not gone away despite brute majority of the party. In the 2017 election, the BJP got a vote share of 46.5 per cent, beating the Opposition Congress hollow and stopping it short at just 11 per cent. All those who had crossed over from the Congress to the BJP ahead of the Assembly election, retained their seats.

But over the years, Rawat’s stewardship of the government has had its share of critics. Among them was disgruntled former CM and MP General B C Khanduri, and the independent-minded B S Koshyari, who even as Governor of Maharashtra, took a deep and keen interest in the politics of Uttarakhand. Khanduri has been vocal in criticising some decisions of the state government, including the decision to permit a private distillery in Devprayag. Rawat, on the other hand, strongly supported it, saying the company which is setting up the plant would produce only export-quality liquor and that the unit is 40 km away from the confluence of the rivers.

“The unit will provide employment,” he said publicly. Equally publicly, Khanduri said the move to site a distillery in Devprayag was ‘suicidal’ for Uttarakhand and that the state was not suited for a distillery. BJP leader and MP Ajay Bhatt said the decision to produce liquor at Devprayag was “very wrong”. 

Rawat may have had some inkling of things in store, for days ago, he distributed 17 key positions in different boards, councils and corporations, and let it be known an expansion of the Cabinet could not be ruled out. But because of the huge number of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), dissidents came to Delhi to complain that even MLAs who had won eight terms in the Assembly had not been made ministers. 

Most state observers are asking themselves if Rawat will go quiet into the night if his man does not replace him.

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