Updated: April 11, 2021 12:51:33 pm
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat on Friday (April 9) suspended the decision of his predecessor Trivendra Singh Rawat, who had last month announced the new administrative division of Gairsain, the third commissionerate in the state after Kumaon and Garhwal.
The government said that the decision on notifying the new commissionerate has been suspended in view of public sentiments, and a final decision would be taken after a detailed examination of the proposal.
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BJP MLAs of Uttarakhand had complained to the party’s central leadership that Trivendra had taken the decision to establish the Gairsain commissionerate without consulting them, and that it could be damaging for the BJP in the Assembly elections of 2022.
Sources said that Trivendra had taken the decision on Gairsain on the advice of a few close confidants in the government. Eventually, the BJP central leadership had replaced Trivendra with Tirath on March 10. Congress state vice-president Suryakant Dhasmana has demanded that the BJP should clarify who among Trivendra and Tirath is right on this issue.
Decision and opposition
While presenting this year’s Budget in March, Trivendra had announced Gairsain town will be the administrative headquarters of a new division in the state, comprising four hill districts: Almora and Bageshwar from Kumaon, and Rudraprayag and Chamoli from Garhwal.
However, the move faced resistance from within the BJP. Several party MPs, MLAs, and ministers expressed their disagreement with the decision. The most resistance was witnessed in Almora in Kumaon, long considered the cultural capital of the state.
Gairsain as a new capital
During the Uttarakhand Assembly’s Budget session in March 2019, which was held in Gairsain, Trivendra had announced that the town would become the summer capital of the state. Three months later, Governor Baby Rani Maurya had given her assent for declaration of Bhararisen (Gairsain) as the summer capital.
The government’s decision had signalled closure on a two-decade-old proposal to benefit the hill region.
Even at the time of creation of Uttarakhand — the state was carved out from Uttar Pradesh on November 9, 2000 — statehood activists had contended that Gairsain, a tehsil in Chamoli district, was best suited to be the capital since it lay between the Kumaon and Garhwal regions, and better reflected the idea and aspirations of the people of the mountainous state.
But it was Dehradun, located nearly 270 km away in the plains, that was named the temporary capital of the new state. Since then, the issue of making Gairsain the capital has figured as a political talking point for the opposition party in every Assembly election.
In its Vision Document released before the 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP had promised to equip Gairsain with top-class infrastructure and consider declaring it as the summer capital with the “consensus of all”.
BJP’s political calculations
With Garhwal and Kumaon being the two divisions in the state, both had equal political significance, and the ruling party has always tried to ensure a balance by selecting the Chief Minister from one region, and the state president of the party from the other region.
The Kumaon region has 29 Assembly constituencies. In the 2017 elections, the BJP won 23 of these seats, while the Congress won five. Several BJP leaders feel that Almora is the most important centre in the region, and making it a part of an administrative division headquartered in Gairsain which is not even a district headquarters town, could upset the people of the politically important Kumaon region.
“The decision on the Gairsain commissionerate could have dealt a blow to the political significance of the Kumaon region, and created a challenging situation for the BJP. The Opposition Congress has already made it an issue in the [April 17] byelection in Salt in Almora district, which BJP is fighting to retain,” a BJP leader said.
In Salt, the BJP has fielded Mahesh Jeena, brother of former MLA Surendra Singh Jeena, who passed away last year.
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