With CM Vijay Bahuguna likely to be replaced this month, the fight for the Uttarakhand Chief Minister’s post seems to have narrowed down to Union Minister Harish Rawat and Uttarakhand minister Pritam Singh, though some other names are doing the rounds.
Party sources said Rawat is a frontrunner, surprisingly so since the party high command was said to be keen on a younger face, and a neutral leader who could rein in factionalism.
Sources said the leadership change would be carried out after the three-day Assembly session which ends on January 16. Rawat — who lost to Bahuguna in the race for CM in 2012 — has been in pursuit of the post but the party high command had not been enthusiastic as it was felt it could intensify factionalism in the deeply divided state unit of the party and render the government unstable. Besides, it was in favour of a younger face.
Sources said Rawat is being considered a top contender. Party leaders said the Union Water Resources Minister — who was elected as the first PCC president of Uttarakhand after its formation — has reportedly pleaded with the leadership that this could be his last shot at the spot and he should be rewarded for his loyalty. A section of the leadership found merit in his argument.
Rawat, despite leading the party to victory in 2002 Assembly elections as the PCC chief had to make way for N D Tiwari. He was sidelined again in 2012, when Vijay Bahuguna became CM. After that, Rawat had sulked. He was made a cabinet minister later. Sources said it could be a close fight between Rawat and Pritam Singh although there are others including state Finance Minister Indira Hridayesh, who are trying to get the post.
Hridayesh surprised many by openly staking claim to the top post. Pritam Singh, ironically, belongs to the Rawat camp and sources said he could emerge as a compromise candidate if the anti-Rawat factions refuse to accept him. Pritam Singh, an MLA from Chakrata, is Food and Civil Supplies minister in the Bahuguna cabinet. Sources said MLAs supporting Rawat had been camping in Delhi as also leaders like Hridayesh and Agriculture Minister Harak Singh Rawat.
AICC general secretary in charge of Uttarakhand Ambika Soni said, “Who becomes the chief minister will depend on the MLAs” as “it is with their support that people become chief ministers and CLP leaders.” The Rawat camp has claimed it has the support of more than half the 32 MLAs.