The Bhartiya Janata Party’s decision to remove Trivendra Singh Rawat as Uttarakhand’s chief minister a year before the assembly polls appears to be a move to quell inner-party angst and rebellion against him.
According to several persons that the SNN spoke to at various levels of the party, a considerable number of members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) were upset that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak-turned-CM kept many of his cabinet member colleagues out of the decision-making process. While unhappiness had been brewing since 2018, a year after he took over, things gathered momentum last month.
The immediate trigger is said to be a meeting between a group of Uttarakhand legislators and Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. While Koshiyari tweeted a picture with the CM, it was his meeting with some BJP MLAs that started the process of his eventual exit just a year before the Uttarakhand polls.
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According to a person aware of the details, the BJP MLAs took the opportunity to pour their heart out to Koshiyari who was the chief minister of Uttarkhand from 2001-2002, and had incidentally, also been placed as the CM by the party bosses just a year before the 2002 elections.
The MLAs told the Governor how Rawat didn’t meet his cabinet colleagues, or party MLAs or even the state’s MPs,” said the person. That message and its severity, coming so close to state elections, was conveyed immediately to the party bosses in Delhi. The Governor’s office confirmed that he was in Dehradun last month but said that they didn’t have any information about this meeting.
“It’s absolutely untrue to think that the party removed the chief minister for any such reason,” said MLA and party spokesperson Munna Chauhan.
“Even the opposition will not accuse him of corruption. I think the party wants to use his expertise at a larger, national level and so they have moved him,” he added. That’s the view the central BJP is also putting on record. “We felt that he should be moved to the national level,” said Dushyant Kumar Gautam who is in charge of the state and was sent to sort out the rebellion.
However, off the record, BJP leaders tell a different story. The story of how the 60-year-old was seen as honest but also headstrong, refusing to listen to his party men and favouring the bureaucrats over the politicians. “He would not allow any political interference in transfers,” said a top state official, asking not to be named. “If any minister or MLA recommended someone for a post, he would never listen to them. He was very strict,” he added.
While the hard task-master was a good role model, political workers of the state point out that Rawat refused to share power and kept all the important portfolios for himself. The government website shows that he had 60 odd portfolios assigned to the Chief Minister’s Office and the cabinet expansion that was expected never took place.
“What’s most important is that while he sided with the bureaucrats, his team of bureaucrats didn’t create the right kind of impression for the government,” said the official quoted above.
“The biggest problem was that he never consulted anyone about the decisions he took,” said a party worker. “For instance, he announced Gairsain as a new region other than Kumaon and Garhwal in the budget a few days ago without speaking to anyone or informing anyone. This is a politically sensitive decision and so everyone got very upset,” he added. When the local MLAs confronted him, the CM is reported to have dismissed their concerns.
“We had a decisive majority in 2017 but despite that, the party felt that many of those put in charge were those that had run the Congress system,” said the BJP worker.
Uttarakhand was formed in the year 2000 and has never had a full-term chief minister other than Congress’ ND Tiwari who was in power from 2002-2007. The BJP had high hopes from the low profile Rawat but they’re hoping to cut their losses with a new face this week.