Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are known to back the chief ministers appointed by them staunchly even in the face of resentment by respective Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) State units, pressure from the public opinion, and even from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The case of former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat , who was asked to quit by party chief J.P. Nadda on Tuesday, therefore bears a close examination.
There was a perfect storm of reasons why Mr. Rawat was asked to go other than his own high unpopularity among the MLAs and party workers, who found him unresponsive to their concerns and unwilling to address them.
Two major decisions of the Rawat government and a corruption case rang the death knell for his government. The Char Dham Devasthanam Management Bill , which brought 51 shrines, including Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri, under the control of the State government, with a limited role for those managing the affairs of these shrines till now, was one of the key reasons. The Bill was approved by Governor Baby Rani Maurya in January. Mr. Rawat, an RSS pracharak-turned-Chief Minister, alienated his own ideological mothership on the issue, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an offshoot of the RSS, threatened a stir in April if the decision was not reversed. Some staffers in these temples were openly celebrating Mr. Rawat’s ouster with crackers and prayers on Tuesday.
Another administrative act that miffed the BJP State unit and upset political calculations was the setting up of the Gairsain Commissionerate , adding districts to this new administrative unit from both the Garhwal and Kumaon areas. Garhwal has traditionally gone with the BJP while Kumaon has been tricky for the party, but the addition of the sub-division of Badrinath and Kedarnath from Garhwal to the commissionerate meant that even this stronghold would possibly fall in the coming elections in February. State leaders alleged that no one was consulted before these decisions whereas party leaders were left holding the can of public resentment and political backlash. “Even when we raised the issue, there was no hearing at the Chief Minister’s office,” said a senior leader.
The slow progress of the Centrally-funded Chardham Yatra projects, keenly followed by Mr. Modi added to this reputation of both administrative foolhardiness and lassitude.
A corruption case against Mr. Rawat, filed by journalist Umesh Sharma in the State on charges of financial irregularities, went up to the High Court, which, in October last year, ordered a CBI inquiry into it. The case involved allegations that Mr. Rawat had money transferred into the accounts of his relatives to get a particular candidate appointed as Jharkhand’s Gau Sewa Aayog, while he was in charge of the State as a BJP leader in 2016. The Supreme Court later ordered a stay on the filing of an FIR against Mr. Rawat, but the case is being heard on Wednesday. Any vacation of the stay would have made the continuance of Mr. Rawat untenable.
Mr. Rawat’s ouster was due to a series of missteps and his inability or unwillingness to take the State unit along. Whether his removal would aid the BJP’s efforts to get re-elected in the State in February is not clear but the willingness of the BJP high command to remove him close to the polls — they had not done so in similar circumstances in Jharkhand — shows that some lessons have been learnt on the importance of a united house in facing rivals.