Pushkar Singh Dhami becomes the new Chief Minister of Uttarakhand

Published : July 03, 2021 18:52 IST

Pushkar Singh Dhami (centre) with BJP leaders, in Dehradun on July 3. Photo: PTI

The “ripped jeans” controversy and kumbh becoming a superspreader of COVID-19 finally resulted in the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat losing his chair. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) culture of picking and dropping Chief Ministers like figures on a chess board continues in Uttarakhand. Former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, who had only a year left for his term, was cast aside on March 10 and Tirath Singh Rawat was hoisted. But after just 114 days, even Tirath Singh Rawat was replaced on July 3 by Pushkar Singh Dhami, a little-known two-time MLA from Khatima in the Kumaon region.

The official reason cited by the party for the removal of Tirath Singh Rawat is that he could not have become an MLA within the stipulated six months’ time from the date of taking over as Chief Minister, which is a constitutional necessity. Apparently, the Election Commission (E.C.) had cited its inability to conduct a byelection because of the pandemic. Tirath Singh Rawat, who was the Member of Parliament from Pauri Garhwal, had to be elected an MLA by September 10, which had now been ruled out by the E.C.

But unofficially, the buzz in BJP circles is that Tirath Singh Rawat had become an embarrassment for the party because of his “ ripped jeans” remark. In one of his speeches, he had said that women who bared their knees wearing ripped jeans were incapable of giving good sanskars to their children. This remark had invited widespread condemnation on social media and the party had to do some embarrassed explaining.

The spike in the number of COVID cases in Uttarakhand after the Kumbh and the testing scam which followed had also become an embarrassment for the party. No matter how much the party denied it, it was an established fact that the millions who gathered for the Kumbh in Haridwar had contributed to the spread of the infection across the country, substantially increasing the number of cases in the second wave. The fake testing scam, which was unearthed later, also left the BJP leaders red in the face. The so-called constitutional crisis only came as a face-saver for the party.

But the choice of Pushkar Singh Dhami, a relatively unknown name in the State, took everyone by surprise. Political observers were speculating that some established and experienced person such as Satpal Maharaj or Dhan Singh Rawat would be chosen as Chief Minister because the State has only few months to go for the Assembly election early next year. Anyone taking over at this stage will have a lot of firefighting to do. Whether Dhami, who is said to be close to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, can do that successfully is doubtful.

Interestingly, it is intriguing that no BJP Chief Minister in Uttarakhand has ever been able to complete his term including the present one, even though the party enjoys a huge numerical strength in the Assembly. And it is also a fact that the frequent change of Chief Ministers has not helped the party at the elections. The example of BJP’s Nityanand swami, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and B.C. Khanduri is there for everyone to see. Nityanand Swami, who was made the Chief Minister after the creation of the State in 2000 amidst high drama, was replaced by Koshyari in October 2001. But replacing Swami did not help the party at the elections and it lost in 2002, paving the way for Congress to assume power. Veteran Congress leader N.D. Tiwari, who became the Chief minister in 2002, was the only one to complete his term.

In 2007, the BJP came back to power and, yet again, there was high drama when B.C. Khanduri’s was named Chief Minister, much to the chagrin of the State’s senior leaders. Khanduri could only remain Chief Minister for two years and, in 2009, he was replaced by Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. However, Nishank could also remain Chief Minister only for 27 months. He was removed and Khanduri was brought back again shortly before the 2012 election. In 2012, the Congress came back to power, with Vijay Bahuguna (now in the BJP) as Chief Minister. In 2017, the BJP won again, winning 57 seats out of the total 70. Now with just over a year left for election, it remains to be seen whether the change of guard will help the party this time.

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