Union Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat was sworn in as the eighth Chief Minister of Uttarakhand on Saturday evening in a ceremony held at the Raj Bhawan here.

Mr Rawat succeeded Congress leader Vijay Bahuguna who stepped down from his position of Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister on Friday after 22 months of holding the office.

The 11 Cabinet Ministers, who were a part of the Bahuguna government, were also sworn in on Saturday.

In his first public address after being the Chief Minister, Mr Rawat said the rehabilitation of the population of the Himalayan State affected by the June 2013 deluge was the utmost priority for his government.

This decision of the Congress to make Mr Rawat the Chief Minister of the State comes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections to strengthen the chances of the Congress in the Lok Sabha where the State has five seats.

A formal announcement on Mr Rawat’s selection as the new leader of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) was made by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi. The decision was taken after the CLP meeting held here on Saturday.

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, and AICC general Secretary Ambika Soni were also present during the CLP meeting as central observers to the State.

Mr Dwivedi said, “Mr Bahuguna, on behalf of the CLP, proposed that Sonia Gandhi should nominate the new CLP leader…. She was contacted [over the phone] and she gave her consent over Mr Rawat’s name.”

The CLP leaders supported the choice, Mr Dwivedi said.

Mr Rawat, 67, who has been in politics for more than three decades, is a Congress MP from Haridwar. He was a strong contender for the post of the Chief Minister when the Congress formed a coalition government in the State in 2012.

The Congress, which has 33 MLAs, is supported by the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) which comprises three BSP MLAs, three independents, and one Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) MLA.

Mr. Bahuguna faced opposition from his own party MLAs after taking over as the Chief Minister in 2012. Mr. Rawat, who was given the Water Resources portfolio, had also shown discontent over the decision of making Mr Bahuguna the Chief Minister.

Mr. Bahuguna’s performance during and after the June disaster last year raised questions over his leadership. The slow rehabilitation work after the disaster proved to be detrimental for his tenure, sources said.