Updated: March 16, 2021 12:50:20 pm
Tirath Singh Rawat has been sworn in as the new Uttarakhand chief minister. The 56-year-old MP from Pauri replaced Trivendra Singh Rawat who stepped down from the post. Tirath was chosen over prominent candidates like Union Ministers Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Dhan Singh Rawat, Satpal Maharaj and others.
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A look at Tirath’s background, why was he picked and what are the challenges he faces with just a year left for the Assembly elections:
Who is Tirath Singh Rawat?
Tirath began as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, served as pracharak and went to hold key positions in ABVP. In the first seven years that he spent in RSS, he was unaware about its political wing, BJP. It was an interaction with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Pauri and being in touch with senior leaders, like Kalyan Singh and Kalraj Mishha, that inspired Tirath to enter active politics.
Before that, Tirath was also students’ union president in Garhwal University. In undivided UP, Tirath had become a member of UP legislative Council in 1997 and after formation of Uttarakhand as a separate state, he was education minister in the interim government, first led by Nityanand Swami and then by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. He also held posts of BJP state president. He had lost successive assembly elections from Pauri, in 2002 and 2007. The margin of his defeat in 2007 was only 11 votes against Independent candidate Yashpal Benam, who was then a Congress rebel and is now in BJP.
The party placed trust in him in 2012 and he emerged victorious from Chaubattakhal in Pauri district. But in 2017, the party denied him ticket and fielded former Congress MP Satpal Maharaj who had crossed over to BJP in March 2014. Maharaj won and joined the Trivendra Singh Rawat cabinet.
Sensing Tirath’s disappointment over denial of ticket, BJP appointed him party national secretary in the middle of the polls. And in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when his political guru and five-term Garhwal MP Maj Gen Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri did not contest due to age factor, Tirath was given the ticket. He won by a margin of over 3 lakh votes defeating Khanduri’s son Manish, a Congress candidate.
Four years after denying him an MLA ticket, BJP Wednesday picked him for CM post and party’s face for the 2022 assembly polls.
Where did Trivendra Singh Rawat go wrong?
In the 12-member state council of ministers, two cabinet berths remained vacant since formation of government in 2017 and another one fell vacant after the death of Prakash Pant in 2019.
Despite repeated demands from the MLAs, Trivendra did not expand cabinet and held with him portfolios of over 50 departments, including Home, Vigilance, Prison, Health, Finance, Medical education, Medical Services, Family welfare, PWD, Industry, Rural Development, civil aviation, disaster management, planning, Excise and Sugar Industry etc. Centralisation of power in this manner created dissent in BJP MLAs and office-bearers. Moreover, in the Trivendra cabinet, there were five ministers who had left the Congress to join BJP within three years before the 2017 polls.
There was also dissatisfaction among a few Cabinet members who alleged that secretaries of their department were taking directions from the CM’s Office.
BJP cadre workers and even MLAs were also complaining that DM and SP in districts were not entertaining their recommendations and bureaucrats in CM’s Office were not addressing their appeals. While Trivendra was heading a government with official support of 56 MLAs, he was facing challenges from his own cabinet members, camps of MLAs mentors who are in national politics.
Trivendra, in the past couple of months, had tried to do damage control by appointing over two dozen party workers in different corporations and boards with minister’s rank but that was insufficient to develop his image of a ‘mass leader’. RSS had got a feedback that BJP cannot win next election in 2022 under his leadership.
Why Tirath was a surprise pick
Talks of leadership change were triggered Saturday with the arrival of BJP national vice-president Raman Singh for state core committee meeting, names for the next CM doing the rounds in political circle were Union Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni, Lok Sabha member Ajay Bhatt, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and cabinet minister Satpal Maharaj. After Trivendra’s resignation on Wednesday, the name of his close confidant and minister Dhan Singh Rawat also surfaced. Sources said lobbying for these names took place from Delhi to Nagpur. All of them were in the race until the meeting of the legislature party began at the BJP office in Dehradun Wednesday at 11 am.
Tirath reached Dehradun from Delhi, minutes before the meeting, and was seated outside the meeting hall with some party workers while Raman Singh and other senior leaders were in another room on the same premises. The MLAs guessed that Tirath may be next CM only when he was asked to take the chair between Raman Singh and Trivendra. Finally, Trivendra proposed Tirath’s name as the next CM.
Tirath is a face without any controversy and has the experience of party organisational affairs. He is soft-spoken and has had no direct confrontation with any party leader in the past. Due to his clean background, RSS agreed to give him command to mitigate dissent and improve the image of BJP government ahead of the 2022 assembly polls.
What are the challenges for Tirath?
Tirath Singh Rawat faces a series of challenging tasks– from correcting the ‘mistakes’ that cost predecessor Trivendra his job, to win trust of MLAs and the party cadre, reduce anti-incumbency and break the jinx that no party repeats in the power after elections in the hill-state.
Also, the state’s political history shows that changing leadership did help either BJP or Congress in polls.
With less than one year left for the 2022 Assembly elections, Tirath cannot afford a “honeymoon period” of even a single day. In the next few months, he will have to take policy decisions to change the perception that the BJP government failed to deliver even after enjoying an overwhelming majority in the Assembly.
According to a party leader, Tirath will have to check dissent among MLAs and party leaders by developing coordination with the government and bureaucrats. He will have to sanction small to medium budget infrastructure projects that need to be completed swiftly. It is notable that Tirath was a minister in the state government 18 years ago and that the style of functioning of bureaucracy and expectation of the public have changed since.
“Kumbh Mela is the first opportunity for him to showcase his administrative efficiency and win the trust of the saint fraternity. This is essential as purohits and pandas in Char Dham shrines and a section of VHP functionaries are upset since the Trivendra government passed the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Bill, bringing shrines and other temples under its direct control,” said a party leader.
As Trivendra faced allegations of making major announcements without consultations, like the recent one of creating commissionerate in Gairsain, Tirath will have to ensure to keep all key stakeholders in the loop. “He will have to maintain dialogue with every public representative and national leader from the state,” said a party functionary.
While Trivendra had stressed on distributing loans for self-employment, Tirath will have to provide openings in the government sector to show his commitment towards reducing joblessness, party insiders say.
“Several development and welfare works have been done in the past four years, but there was a need to have a face like — CM for all. Trivendra failed to do that. Tirath will have to build that image before the elections,” said a party leader.
Meanwhile, before 2022, Tirath will face the assembly bypoll in Salt and the Garhwal Lok Sabha seat that will fall vacant after his resignation. It is uncertain so far whether he will contest from Salt or will ask any MLA to vacate their seat for him to get Assembly membership.
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