Updated: March 16, 2021 12:52:03 pm
Despite the unwavering support he had from some of the top leaders in the BJP, Trivendra Singh Rawat has had to quit a year before completing his term as chief minister of Uttarakhand. The main reason cited for his exit, just 12 days before his government’s fourth anniversary, is the growing discontent among MLAs and factional leaders in the state unit.
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Party sources said the dwindling popularity of Rawat has prompted rivals in the party to push the leadership to go for a change of guard before elections next year. “While the top leadership was upset with the slow progress in the developmental projects and the shortcoming in the governance aspect, the factionalism got intensified. The situation has become such that no one in the party could salvage his image,” said a senior BJP leader.
Political developments in Uttarakhand, a relatively small state, seem to hold a larger message for the BJP chief ministers handpicked by the central leadership. Political observers pointed out that Rawat’s exit from the post under pressure from the state unit has yet again proved that the leaders imposed from the central leadership do not last in BJP-ruled states.
While in Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis had to face tremendous pressure from the state unit during his term as chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar is still reeling under the intense factionalism in the Haryana unit. Both Fadnavis and Khattar were handpicked by the central leadership of the BJP.
However, the central leadership was forced to let Shivraj Singh Chouhan be the chief minister after the organisation-driven political drama brought the BJP back in power, throwing out the Kamal Nath-led government.
There have been numerous complaints against the policy decisions Rawat has taken during his term, but the one that infuriated not only the BJP leadership but the RSS and the VHP as well was the state government’s move to pass the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Bill, sources said. As many as 51 shrines, including Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri, have been brought under the direct control of the state government with the law, which got the Governor’s assent in January.
While Rawat claimed that the new law would help in the professional management of shrines, a majority in the party, cabinet colleagues, local businessmen and the ideological family of the BJP had expressed their objections to the move. Maintaining that the government should have limited role in the management of the shrines, the RSS leaders and the leaders of the VHP, who even protested publicly, took the complaint to the top brass of the BJP and even the Prime Minister, said the sources. The VHP has announced a massive protest in April against the government move.
Another decision against which even the national leadership of the party raised questions was his announcement of creation of a new commissionerate in Garasain, the summer capital of the state. Uttarakhand has traditionally had two commissionerates, or administrative units, in Kumaon and Garhwal. Rawat’s decision to set up a third, comprising some districts of Garhwal and Kumaon, upset people in both areas.
While people were angry that Almora, the cultural capital of Kumaon, was made part of the new Garasain commissionerate, those in Garhwal areas were agitated as the sub division with Badrinath and Kedarnath became part of the new unit.
“There was no consultation – neither among the state leaders nor with the central leadership. The Chief Minister took decisions with some bureaucrats at his side and completely ignored the party and his cabinet colleagues,” said a leader familiar with the developments.
No friends, only foes
Rawat, considered to be close to current Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, is also believed to be a close confidante of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Party leaders recalled how Shah instructed the state leaders to see that Rawat wins the Doiwala seat in 2017. He had lost the same seat in a bypoll in 2014 after Ramesh Pokhriyal vacated the assembly seat to contest the Lok Sabha.
Party sources said Rawat had no friends in the party – be it Satpal Maharaj, Pokhriyal or the leaders like Vijay Bahuguna who joined the BJP from the Congress. No one backed him unconditionally.
Incidentally, the case on the alleged corruption charges against Rawat is to come up in the Supreme Court in the coming days. The apex court had last year stayed the High Court’s order on lodging an FIR against him against the allegations made by a journalist in a video, accusing Rawat of allegedly getting money transferred to accounts of relatives in 2016 to back the appointment of a person in Jharkhand to head the Gau Seva Ayog. Rawat was the BJP’s Jharkhand in-charge then.
The Uttarakhand unit has always been troublesome for the BJP’s central leadership. The numerous factions – every former chief minister and every national leader has a group there, quips a party leader – and the one-upmanship among the senior leaders have always created hurdles for the central leadership.
For a state that was formed in 2000, no BJP chief minister could complete a term: Nityanand Swamy, who was appointed as chief minister when the state was formed, was replaced by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in October 2001 in the interim assembly only. B C Khanduri was in power from March 2007 to June 2009 and Pokhriyal who replaced him was on the post only for 27 months before Khanduri took over again. The BJP lost power in 2012 and when it returned to power in 2017, Rawat became the Chief Minister.
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