Congress MP Vijay Bahuguna was today sworn in as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand after the Congress overruled a revolt by another MP Harish Rawat,who is said to have offered to resign from the Union government.
65-year-old Bahuguna,son of late Congress leader Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna,was the lone minister to take the oath of office and secrecy at a brief ceremony at the Parade Ground here.
Governor Margaret Alva administered the oath at the function which was attended by former Chief Minister N D Tiwari,central Congress observers Ghulam Nabi Azad,Birender Singh,party MP Satpal Maharaj,PCC chief Yashpal Arya,and Bahuguna’s sister Rita Bahuguna Joshi.
Only 11 out of the 32 Congress MLAs were present besides three independent MLAs — Mantri Prasad Netani,Harish Durgapal and Dinesh Tanhai — and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal MLA Pritam Singh Panwar.
Prominent Congress leaders Harak Singh Rawat and Indra Hridayesh,who were themselves aspirants for the Chief Minister’s post,were conspicuous by their absence as were Harish Rawat’s supporters.
The Congress,which won 32 seats in the 70-member Assembly,one more than BJP’s 31,has managed to get the support of three independents and an equal number of BSP MLAs and that of UKD(K) MLA.
But the revolt by Rawat,who is said to have a sizable number of supporters among the MLAs,came as a surprise to the party leadership.
Upset over the party decision,Rawat reportedly sent a letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi offering to resign. His supporters claimed in the capital that he has resigned but Rawat himself declined to confirm or deny.
The swearing-in ceremony took place even as sulking Rawat and his supporters were closeted at his residence in Delhi and were deliberating their next strategy after the High Command rejected the Union Minister’s demand that he be made the Chief Minister.
Rawat,a Rajput leader who was elected to Lok Sabha first in 1980 defeating BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi,was pipped to the post in the race for Chief Ministership when Sonia Gandhi chose Bahuguna,a Brahmin,for the post.
Since then,Rawat,Minister of State for Agriculture and Parliamentary Affairs,had been upset and had made it plain to the party that he has been overlooked a second time after N D Tiwari was preferred over him ten years ago.
As the revolt raged,there was uncertainty whether the party would have a rethink.
But AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi ruled out any change of Chief Minister nominee.
“Senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Birendera Singh have left for Dehradun as central observers and the swearing in of Bahuguna as Chief Minister is being held as scheduled,” he said.
Even as Bahuguna was taking oath,Pradeep Tamta,a Congress MP and close aide of Rawat,breathed fire outside Rawat’s residence in Delhi saying they would refuse to accept Bahuguna as their leader because he worked against the party during the elections.
The party high command had played game with Rawat earlier which has been repeated again. “At that time we accepted it because it was Tiwari who was big in stature. This time we will not not accept,” he said.
Asked about the number of MLAs supporting Rawat and what will be their strategy during confidence vote,Tamta said they would disclose the strategy at the right time.
Queried whether their group has the support of 17 MLAs,he said,”we have that much and more than that. We will let you know the number as and when it is required.”
He denied reports that Rawat had either met or spoken to BJP President Nitin Gadkari or any other BJP leaders.
Leadership means overcoming personal feelings: Cong to Rawat
With Vijay Bahuguna taking oath as Uttarakhand Chief Minister amid rebellion in the party’s state unit,Congress today gently reminded Union Minister Harish Rawat that leadership means overcoming personal feelings even in case of “legitimate disappointment”.
Seeking to downplay the controversy over the selection of the new Chief Minister amid rumours of Rawat offering to resign as minister and his supporters crying “injustice”,party spokesperson Manish Tewari said party managers will engage in the necessary “interlocution” and it expects that the controversy will be surmounted.
“When there are competing claims,a decision has to be taken…certain people who may be aspiring for certain positions may be having a certain sense of legitimate disappointment…leadership demands that personal feelings need to be surmounted…made subservient to the larger interests,” party spokesperson Manish Tewari said.
Tewari at the same time acknowledged that Rawat has been a “long standing activist and leader of Congress” and has worked his way up from being the student wing leader of the party to his current position in politics.
“At times when there are expectations and legitimate expectations,there can be a certain sense of disapointmnet as well but those who have served in Congress party for such a long period and have been through the trials and tribulations at times need to take these things in their stride.
“We are hopeful if there is a sense of disappointment,it can be surmounted,” Tewari said when asked whether Congress in Uttarakhand is making a repeat of Andhra Pradesh where party MP Jaganmohan Reddy’s rebellion led to a split in the party.
The Congress spokesperson at the same time stressed that Congress follows a certain process in such matters which was also followed in case of Uttarakhand.
He expressed ignorance when asked whether Rawat sent his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Asked whether Rawat has put in his papers,Tewari said,”I have no idea. Only Rawat will know it or a government representative.”
Asked whether he submitted any such letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi,he replied in a similar vein saying he has no information and will apprise the media if the party has to say something.
Tewari also declined to answer a query about speculation that Rawat had allegedly met BJP President Nitin Gadkari last night. “We do not respond to speculative reports” was his refrain to this question.
Asked whether there could be a split in the party with Rawat’s opposition,Tewari expressed confidence that the matter would be sorted out.
A senior leader speaking on condition of anonymity said the party values Rawat’s contribution and thinks that disappointments in such hours are natural but expects him to rise above it.
“There is no need to be dismissive about his contribution,” the leader said.
Asked how stable the Bahuguna government will be amid such scenes of revolt,the leader chose to recall that when Bhupinder Singh Hooda was made Haryana Chief Minister for the first time,there was a similar scene at the residence of then party stalwart Bhajan Lal but there was no threat to the stability of Hooda government thereafter.
Meanwhile,sources close to Rawat indicated the Union Minister is in no mood to take things lying down and is peeved at the party’s stand that the decision on Bahuguna is final. Rawat is likely to assert that it is he who has the numbers with him.