New Delhi: Amid speculation over a change of leadership in Uttarakhand, chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat has tendered his resignation on Friday, CNN-News18 reported, citing sources from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to the news report, Rawat sent his resignation to BJP national president J.P. Nadda, and the party is planning to elect a new legislature head on Saturday.
Speculation over a change of guard in the state was fuelled by Rawat being summoned suddenly on Wednesday to Delhi, where he met the BJP’s top leaders including party president J.P. Nadda and Union home minister Amit Shah.
He was supposed to return to Uttarakhand on Thursday but stayed back.
After meeting Nadda on Friday, Rawat told reporters that it is the Election Commission’s prerogative to hold or not conduct the bypoll, and the party will move forward accordingly, PTI reported.
According to the Constitution, Rawat, an MP from Pauri Garhwal who was sworn in as chief minister on March 10, needs to become a member of the state assembly before September 10 to continue in office. The Constitution mandates a minister or the chief minister to get elected to the state legislature within six months of taking oath.
But Uttarakhand doesn’t have a legislative council. That leaves direct elections as the only way out for Tirath Rawat.
There are two vacant assembly seats in Uttarakhand – Gangotri and Haldwani. Gangotri fell vacant after the death of BJP MLA Gopal Singh Rawat and Haldwani fell vacant after the death of Leader of Opposition Indira Hridayesh.
Speculation is rife about Rawat being fielded from Gangotri to retain the seat, the CNN-News18 report said.
However, given the COVID-19 situation, the EC may not order a bypoll for the vacant seats in Uttarakhand.
Scathing criticism by the courts of the string of elections held during the coronavirus pandemic may also contribute to the EC decision on Uttarakhand bypolls, political observers told PTI.
Section 151A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 mandates the Election Commission to fill vacancies in parliament and the state legislatures through bypolls within six months from the date of their occurrence, provided that the remainder of the term of the new member is one year or more.
The term of Uttarakhand assembly is scheduled to come to an end in March, only about nine months away.
Going by some Uttarakhand BJP leaders’ interpretation, however, the law neither prevents nor makes it mandatory for the EC to hold bye-elections in such circumstances.
“It is within the scope and ambit of the Election Commission to take a call on whether or not to hold a bypoll in the state. Everything depends on the Election Commission of India,” said Munna Singh Chauhan, BJP MLA from Vikasnagar and former spokesperson of the party’s state unit.
Rawat has little to worry if a bypoll is held but doubts are being cast on its constitutional feasibility as the current assembly completes its tenure in less than a year.
Even if there are no constitutional hurdles, the EC may not find it easy to go for a bypoll in Uttarakhand, political observers said, recalling court observations against the EC for risking people’s lives through elections amid a pandemic.
Political observers said the Centre may also not press for a bypoll in Uttarakhand as bye-elections are also due in other parts of the country and the hill state cannot be made an exception.
If a bypoll is not held then the only option left for the BJP’s central leadership is to replace Rawat with someone who is already an MLA, they said.
(With inputs from PTI)