Harish Rawat likely to be new Uttarakhand CM as Bahuguna gets boot

With the Congress government deciding on a change of guard in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand, union water resources minister Harish Rawat, considered the front-runner to replace Vijay Bahuguna as the state's chief minister, arrived in Dehradun today to a resounding reception by his supporters, amid the beating of drums and a presentation of Kumaoni folk dances.

The other front-runner for the post is state minister Pritam Singh; but many observers say the appointment of Rawat is almost certain. A formal announcement in this regard will be made after a meeting of the state Congress Legislature Party, which began today at the Bijapur state guest house in the state's capital city in the presence of central observers including Congress co-in-charges for Uttarakhand Sanjay Kapoor said Ambika Soni, Janaradhan Dwivedi and Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The new chief minister and his cabinet were to be sworn in this afternoon itself, but this has not happened and the matter is likely to be resolved only on Sunday.

Incumbent Vijay Bahuguna resigned yesterday under party pressure. His ouster was ostensibly due to his allegedly delayed response to the flood and landslide disaster in June last year. However, it is unlikely that any other chief minister would have done better. The disaster was largely due to environmental factors, and no party or government in the state is about to prioritise afforestation of the denuded forests.

Addressing the press, Bahuguna said he has submitted his resignation to the state governor. He added he was merely following the wishes of his party.

The decision to replace Bahuguna was taken at a meeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had with senior party leaders on Thursday.

Delegations of MLAs and other Congress leaders from the state have been regularly meeting central party leaders in New Delhi over the past six months to press for Bahuguna's ouster.

The Congress, with 33 members in the Assembly, enjoys the support of the seven-member Progressive Democratic Front that comprises three independents, three members of the BSP and one MLA of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. The remaining 30 MLAs are of the BJP.

Rawat was the first president of the Pradesh Congress Committee after the formation of Uttarakhand. But despite leading the party to victory in the 2002 elections, he was not made the chief minister and the nondescript N D Tiwari was preferred. Again in 2012, he was put aside in favour of Bahuguna. Rawat was inducted in the union cabinet to soothe his feathers.

Pritam Singh is himself of the Rawat camp, and the talk is that he could emerge as a compromise candidate if the anti-Rawat factions refuse to accept him. Pritam Singh is an MLA from Chakrata.