Assembly Polls a Year Away, Uttarakhand CM T.S. Rawat Quits Amidst Turmoil Within BJP

The BJP leadership is understood to have asked him to step down after a number of party legislators from Uttarakhand expressed anger with his style of functioning.

New Delhi: After days of suspense around his continuation in the post following an outburst of anger against him by other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and legislators in the state, Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned from his post on Tuesday, March 9.

Rawat submitted his resignation to governor Baby Rani Maurya at 4.30 pm and made the announcement soon after returning from Delhi, where he had been summoned and met several senior party leaders on Monday.

Speaking to the media after submitting his resignation, he said his party had given him the golden opportunity to serve as chief minister of Uttarakhand. “I come from humble beginnings, from a small village and the family of a soldier. No one could have imagined I would get the opportunity to serve as chief minister of the state for four years.”

He said the party has now decided that someone else should be given the opportunity to serve as the chief minister. He also thanked the party for allowing him to unveil schemes for all sections of the society during the period.

When asked for the reason of his removal, Rawat told reporters: “You will have to go to Delhi for this.

Rawat said the BJP believes in taking collective decisions on who would succeed him and that the legislative party meeting would take place at the state party headquarters at 10 am on Wednesday, March 10.

Deliberations over new leader

BJP’s central leadership has once again sent former Chhattisgarh chief minister and senior party leader Raman Singh as a central observer to the state. Leaving for Dehradun from Raipur, Singh said he would hold deliberations with legislators on the issue of change in leadership in the state. “Their feelings will be respected,” he said.

Also read: As Suspense Continues, BJP Mulls if Time Is Right to Pluck T.S. Rawat Out of Uttarakhand

Singh had earlier rushed to the state capital, Dehradun, on Saturday, along with the party’s general secretary in-charge of Uttarakhand, Dushyant Kumar Gautam, to hold consultations with disgruntled legislators, MPs and others party leaders. Both of them had also met Rawat, who was in Gairsain for the assembly session that day and was asked to fly to Dehradun.

The role of central leadership 

By the time Rawat returned to Dehradun on Tuesday afternoon from Delhi, it had become clear that he had been asked to step down. A large number of his supporters reached the Jolly Grant airport to receive him and raised slogans in his favour, saying they were with him.

Rawat’s being asked to step down also came as a surprise for many as only on Sunday, following the meeting of the two central observers with the emergency core committee members in Dehradun, senior party leaders had assured that there would be no change of guard.

Raman Singh. Photo: PTI

Following that meeting, Raman Singh had ruled out a change in the leadership, saying, “Only some party issues were discussed. No change in state leadership was on the table.”

BJP state president Bansidhar Bhagat had also played down the context of the meeting, saying it was held to “discuss and take important decisions with regard to the working committee meeting of the state BJP to be held here on March 13 and 14. The state-wide functions with completion of four years of the state government on March 18 will also be discussed in the meeting”.

However, the very next day, on Monday, March 8, Rawat was summoned to Delhi for meetings with senior party leaders including national president J.P. Nadda. By this time, party sources said, a decision had already been taken that he would have to go.

Rebellion in the party

The party central leadership, sources said, took the decision to curb any major rebellion within the ranks as a large number of state legislators were angry with Rawat’s style of functioning. Though several MLAs had complained against him last year too, this time the party acted as it appeared that several of them might jump ship and joiner either the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party, which has made up its mind to contest the Assembly polls due next year.

Also, it has been learnt that the party got a sense that some legislators were thinking of resigning from their seats to protest Rawat’s continuation despite their concerns.

Incidentally, Rawat was not one of the big faces in the state when he was picked up to lead the government following the 2017 assembly elections, in which BJP won 57 of the 70 seats. However, over time, he failed to emerge as a people’s chief minister and also could not win the hearts of his own party legislators. Many accused him of working with only a clutch of MLAs he was comfortable with.

“He works with a select few MLAs and has never bothered to reach out to the other leaders,” said a party source.

RSS irked

This apart, several of Rawat’s decisions have also irked senior BJP leaders and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the state. The most recent of these was his making Gairsain the third administrative division in the state after Kumaon and Garhwal.

The status for the new summer capital of the state annoyed a large number of people from the Kumaon region because Almora, which is considered the cultural capital of Kumaon, was also clubbed with Gairsain.

Several senior party leaders, including former state BJP president and now MP from Nainital, Ajay Bhatt, vehemently opposed this move. It was alleged that Rawat did not consult most senior leaders before taking this decision. Likewise, he was also accused of not taking the stakeholders into confidence before he shifted the summer capital to Gairsain.

Trivendra Singh Rawat in Gairsain. Photo: Twitter/@tsrawatbjp

The recent lathi-charge on people protesting against state road projects in Nainital also worked against Rawat.

The RSS is also learnt to have been irked by Rawat’s decisions to allow the opening of a distillery in Rudraprayag, curtailing the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Haridwar, and bringing all the major shrines which are part of the Char Dham Yatra under a Devasthanom Board that is run by the government.

‘Bureaucratic’ style of functioning

In the past, several legislators had accused Rawat of not listening to their demands but working through the bureaucracy. Last year, MLA Puran Singh Fartyal had protested against the state government’s decision to re-allocate the construction work of the Tanakpur-Jauljibi (TJ) road to the same contractor who was blacklisted in 2017 and accused Rawat of not listening to him in the matter.

Also read: Uttarakhand: CM Distributes Key Posts, Triggering Speculation of a Cabinet Expansion

Another MLA Umesh Sharma Kau from Dehradun had written a protest note to BJP president J.P. Nadda saying his constituency was being neglected and no development work was taking place there. Yet another legislator, Bishan Singh Chuphal, had said that bureaucrats were not even listening to the MLAs.

Rawat’s Delhi trip

Developments of Monday, March 8, showed that Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J.P. Nadda had felt that all was not well within the party in Uttarakhand. The two central observers in the meantime are also learnt to have submitted their report to senior party leaders.

The developments have also led to speculation around who could replace Rawat if the party decided to stem dissent by bringing in a new face before the next elections.

Among the leaders who are said to be in the race to succeed Rawat are Union education minister and former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Uttarakhand minister and MLA from Srinagar (Garhwal) Dhan Singh Rawat, state cabinet minister and activist Satpal Maharaj, Rajya Sabha MP and BJP’s national spokesperson Anil Baluni, and Nainital MP Ajay Bhatt.

Rawat’s term came to an end just nine days before he could complete four years. He is one of the longest serving chief ministers of the party in the state. When the first interim assembly was formed in the state in November 2000, the BJP had made Nityanand Swami the chief minister but he was replaced after a year and three months in office with Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.

After BJP won the assembly polls in 2007, Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri headed the government from 2007 to 2009 and then from 2011 to 2012, and Ramesh Pokhriyal was brought in between 2009 and 2011.