Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat resigned late on Friday night, less than four months after taking over, and hours after holding a press conference to talk about the achievements of his government.
Rawat reached Raj Bhavan at around 11 pm with Cabinet colleagues and handed over his resignation to Governor Baby Rani Maurya, citing the constitutional provision requiring him to get elected to the Assembly within six months, and the unlikelihood of that.
The BJP has called a meeting of its legislative group on Saturday afternoon at the party headquarters in Dehradun.
Speaking to mediapersons after submitting his resignation, Rawat thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda for trusting him with the post. “Considering the constitutional crisis… I found it appropriate to resign,” he said.
Headache before polls
Tirath Singh Rawat’s resignation so close to elections is not likely to end BJP’s woes in Uttarakhand. Choosing a new CM will set off fresh tremors in the faction-ridden state unit, and explaining the frequent change of guard to the electorate won’t be an easy task.
Rawat had returned to Dehradun just hours earlier, after three days in Delhi, where he met Nadda twice and Shah once. Amidst uncertainty over his continuance in the post, this had been Rawat’s third visit to Delhi within a month.
Rawat, who continues to be an MP, had been handpicked by the central leadership as CM, in place of Trivendra Singh Rawat, after the latter ran foul of the RSS as well as many within the BJP. Having been sworn in on March 10, he had time to get elected as an MLA till September 10.
However, apart from Covid curbs making holding a bypoll difficult, as per the Representation of the People Act, a by-election for a seat should not be held if the term of a House is less than a year. Uttarakhand goes to polls next year.
A way though may have been found around it, as legal experts reportedly told the BJP. Rawat appeared to have been counting on it, telling reporters in Delhi before leaving for Dehradun that the Election Commission would decide, and he would go by whatever it ruled.
At present two Assembly seats are lying vacant in the state — Gangotri and Haldwani, due to the death of their sitting MLAs Gopal Singh Rawat (BJP) and Indira Hridayesh (Congress) respectively.
State leaders are questioning the role played by the central leadership in the entire episode, which has left the party in the unenviable position of going before the electorate with two changes of CMs within months.
BJP insiders also point out that the party lost at least one opportunity to get Rawat elected, well in time, when bypoll was held for the Salt Assembly seat in April. The bypoll had been necessitated by the death of BJP MLA Surendra Singh Jeena. On March 29, 19 days after Rawat became CM, the BJP had announced Jeena’s elder brother Mahesh as its candidate.
Asked about this Friday after he resigned, Rawat said he couldn’t contest from Salt as he was down with Covid at the time. He had tested positive on March 22.
Sources said the BJP was not sure of Rawat winning from Salt. The seat falls in the Kumaon region and Rawat’s political career has been confined to Garhwal. With Mahesh as candidate, the BJP had won the seat by a higher margin than the 2017 Assembly polls.
Another reason for the BJP’s reticence may have been Uttarakhand’s history of handing out defeat to CMs — in 2012, the BJP’s B C Khanduri had lost from Kotdwar, and in 2017, Congress leader Harish Rawat had been defeated from both Kichha and Haridwar Rural seats.
However, a BJP leader said, that still did not absolve the leadership of its “oversight”. “When the state was scheduled to go for an Assembly election in a year, the by-election should have happened earlier,” the leader said.
Speculation about a change in leadership had been on since Rawat was called to Delhi following a three-day Chintan Baithak held by the BJP in Nainital over the Assembly polls. During his Delhi visits, apart from Nadda and Shah, Rawat had met Modi and other senior leaders.
Electing a replacement for Rawat won’t be a cakewalk, given the party’s divided ranks in Uttarakhand. There are several claimants for the post including, reportedly, Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Satpal Maharaj, Dhan Singh Rawat and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Anil Baluni.
Blaming the central leadership for the “confusion”, state leaders said this has added to the “woes of the party ahead of the Assembly elections”. One of them said, “How can we explain this to the electorate? It has become a joke.”
There was also talk of the BJP advancing the state polls as a way out. However, that is virtually ruled out now. According to party sources, an assessment of the political situation in the state by the central leadership — general secretary (Organisation) B L Santhosh was in Uttarakhand last month — showed strong anti-incumbency against the government. People are unhappy over the handling of Covid, lack of development projects and the continuing shortage of job opportunities.
“In case the elections are held ahead of schedule and the party gets defeated, it will have a bearing on the coming Uttar Pradesh elections. The morale of the workers would get affected,” a party leader pointed out.
Senior Congress leader and former CM Harish Rawat attacked the BJP on Friday, saying it was false propaganda that a by-election could not be held due to Covid or that Rawat was resigning because of constitutional compulsions.