Pushkar Singh Dhami is the 11th chief minister of the state of Uttarakhand in 20 years, since it came into existence in November 2000, after half-a-century-long struggle by the people of the region. The number of chief ministers the state has seen in the last two decades is reflective of a sad story.
Either homegrown leaders are failing their people or political manoeuvring by various warring factions ensures there’s no successful chief minister. Or, worse, perhaps the central party leadership (this more during Congress regime) is disconnected so badly from local political realities that it results in inertia or wrong choices at wrong times.
The question several people are asking is: was it only a legal constitutional point that caused his untimely exit in 116 days? Or was there something more, which compelled the BJP leadership to take this drastic step?
BJP Could Not Have Been Caught Unawares
Doubts arise for two reasons.
First, when the BJP made a surprise decision to remove Trivendra Singh Rawat and anoint Tirath Singh Rawat—an MP—as Chief Minister on 10 March, it was well aware of the legal-constitutional hurdle of getting him elected to the State Assembly before six months lapsed.
Second, a situation (though not exactly similar) had unfolded in Maharashtra where Legislative Council elections were initially not being held due to COVID protocols. But Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari later wrote to the Election Commission that elections for Legislative Council posts be held to avoid a constitutional crisis in the state. The elections were held and Uddhav Thackeray was duly elected to continue serving as Chief Minister of the state.
Could the same have been done in Uttrakhand? Citing extraordinary circumstances to the Election Commission, and seeking a waiver of last year’s by-election clause?
There is no easy answer to that. Yes, the latest development in Uttarakhand will become a case history for students of politics.
Revolving Door of Uttarakhand CMs Due to Disconnect Between Delhi and Dehradun
The only person who served the state as the chief minister for five years was Narayan Dutt Tiwari, from 2002 to 2007. Unfortunately, Tiwari’s developmental work for the state is remembered more as what he did as the chief minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh rather than that of a separately carved out Uttarakhand state. Harish Rawat—who was then a strong chief ministerial probable—couldn’t reconcile with Tiwari’s leadership. His seniority was also a bit uncomfortable for the Congress’ Delhi-based High Command, and Tiwari made headlines and gossip for things unrelated with governance.
All other chief ministers from the first chief minister of the new state in 2000 Nityanand Swami (BJP), to Bhagat Singh Koshiyari (BJP), to BC Khanduri (BJP), to Ramesh Pokriyal Nishank (BJP), to Vijay Bahuguna (Congress), to Harish Rawat (Congress), to Trivendra Singh Rawat (BJP), to the latest Tirath Singh Rawat (BJP) followed a revolving door.
PM Modi’s Connection With Uttarakhand & BJP’s Disappointing CMs
The current BJP dispensation at the centre, since 2014, had assured stability of term to all its chief ministers. Uttarakhand becomes an exception, perhaps, because the party learnt lessons from Rajasthan and Jharkhand. And perhaps because it is said to be PM Modi's favourite state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, since his adulthood, has deep personal attachment with the state. The 'Dev Bhoomi' with immense potential, Uttarakhand attracts lakhs of tourists and pilgrims every year from across the nation. After becoming Prime Minister, Modi has visited Kedarnath more than once and laid out a series of centrally-sponsored and centrally-monitored projects.
In June 2013, days after Modi was appointed as Chairman of the BJP campaign committee for the 2014 parliamentary elections—a precursor to him being declared the prime ministerial candidate, he surprised the nation by landing in Dehradun with experts and logistical support from Gujarat, to supervise an unprecedented rescue and relief operation for people truck in the Kedarnath tragedy.
Thanks to Modi’s charisma and popular appeal, the BJP got an overwhelming majority in 2017 and it was expected that the “double-engine government” would take the state to new heights. Trivendra Singh Rawat was given a long rope but he failed both Modi and the state. He, thus, had to be churned out after being in office for close to four years.
Tirath Singh Rawat in less than four months, dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons, from his“fati jeans” (ripped jeans) comment to the epic mismanagement of the Kumbh mela, which cost both the BJP and brand Modi heavily. He thus had to be let go.
CM Dhami as the Light at the End of the Tunnel
A younger Dhami, in his 40s is, a surprise choice, the third chief minister in the present Assembly term. Dhami’s appointment comes at a most critical time—the poll process in Uttarakhand along with four states, including Uttar Pradesh will start in five months. The challenges for Dhami, who belongs to Pithoragarh (Kumaon) region are well and truly Himalayan. The rank and file of the party, and of people at large would hope that he has learnt lessons from his predecessors.
Dhami is young and said to be an action-oriented energetic man. BJP leaders say as the state Yuva Morcha chief he had made a mark with his outreach and organisational ability. Will he be able to unify various factions of the Uttarakhand BJP? More importantly, will he be able to act as true bridge, unlike his predecessors, between Delhi and Dehradun?
All of this remains to be seen.
While Kumbh 2021 will haunt two of his predecessors from BJP Trivendra Singh and Tirath Singh for a long time, only time will tell if Pushkar Singh Dhami will fondly remember Kumbh 2021.
(The author is a senior journalist and tweets @sanjays04. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)