BJP leader Tirath Singh Rawat resigned as Uttarakhand chief minister on Friday after holding the post for less than four months.
Ending days of speculation about a change of guard in the state, Rawat handed over his resignation letter to Governor Baby Rani Maurya past 11 pm, hours after returning from Delhi where he was summoned by the top BJP leadership on Wednesday.
Three months after he was sworn-in as chief minister of Uttarakhand, Rawat had offered to resign from the post, triggering a constitutional crisis in the state that is set for assembly polls early next year. Rawat, sources say, had written to his party’s national president JP Nadda expressing his desire to step down.
A Lok Sabha MP when he was named chief minister in March after the BJP decided to sack the then incumbent, Trivendra Singh Rawat, Tirath was constitutionally required to be elected to the Uttarakhand assembly within six months. Article 164 of the Constitution states that a “Minister (including the chief minister) who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the Legislature of the State shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a Minister.” This constitutional requirement, as per Tirath, is in conflict with the law laid down for conduct of bypolls under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. In his letter to Nadda, the CM has reportedly said that his election to the Uttarakhand Assembly would not be possible since Section 151A of the RP Act mandates that bypolls to a state legislature shall not be held if “the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than one year.”
Tirath’s offer to resign citing the conflict between the two laws has, however, surprised several of his BJP colleagues in Uttarakhand, some of whom told Outlook that the “real reason” for his decision to step down was the unrest among party leaders and cadre in the state against his brief and controversial tenure. A senior state BJP leader tells Outlook, “Surely our central leadership would have made him CM after assessing the legal position on the conduct of bypolls because he was appointed when the remaining tenure of the state legislature was just shy of a year… besides, we did have an assembly by-election on April 17 for the Salt constituency and there were BJP leaders who had said then that Tirath should have taken up that seat as a challenge for himself and to establish the party’s popularity.”
Outlook had reported earlier this week that various factions of the BJP’s Uttarakhand unit were unhappy with Tirath’s leadership and believed that the very reasons for the exit of his predecessor, Trivendra Singh Rawat, who was accused by some state leaders of being incompetent and unpopular, extended to the incumbent CM too. With Uttarakhand scheduled for Assembly polls around February/March next year (the tenure of the current state assembly ends on March 23, 2022), an influential section of the state BJP had, sources say, told the party’s central leadership that the BJP may not win the polls if Tirath is projected as the CM again.
Tirath’s brief term as CM had already embarrassed his party and its leadership on various occasions as he routinely grabbed public attention for controversial and misogynistic statements. His inability to build bridges with his predecessor, Trivendra, and win over other disgruntled party leaders is also being cited in the state BJP circles as reasons for increasing friction within the party at a time when it should have been focussed on planning its assembly poll strategy.
For now, the central leadership has decided to dispatch Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar to speak to BJP MLAs in Dehradun and evolve a consensus among the legislators for Tirath’s successor. BJP legislative party meeting has been scheduled at 3PM in Dehradun on Saturday. All party MLAs have been asked to be in the state capital. This, however, may not end the party’s woes in the short run since the BJP is a divided house in Uttarakhand. “There are too many aspirations that need to be balanced. Tirath wasn’t the most popular choice to be made CM when the party sacked Trivendra… Those who quit the Congress to join the BJP, people like Vijay Bahuguna (a former CM), Satpal Maharaj, Harak Singh Rawat and Yashpal Arya feel they haven’t been suitably rewarded till date for their defection. BJP leaders like Dhan Singh feel the party has taken them for granted,” a senior BJP leader had told Outlook earlier this week.
Since the BJP no longer has the option of parachuting another non-MLA as Tirath’s replacement in Uttarakhand, the party will have to choose the new CM from among its current legislators. Sources say Dhan Singh Rawat, Satpal Maharaj and Pushkar Singh Dhami are some of the legislators who are in the race though a dark horse cannot be ruled out. If the party chooses to appoint a Thakur CM again, it may have to balance caste equations in the state ahead of the assembly polls by inducting a Brahmin leader from the state into the Union cabinet which has been long due for a reshuffle. Similarly, if the party chooses to appoint a CM from the state’s Kumaon region, it could induct Tirath – the Lok Sabha MP from Garhwal – into the union cabinet to balance regional representation from state in the Centre.