Satpal Maharaj, Trivendra Rawat or Prakash Pant: who will be Uttarakhand CM?
Having won the recently held state Assembly polls in Uttarakhand with a landslide victory, the BJP is now facing the most difficult task of choosing the new chief minister of the hill state. The decision will be crucial as Uttarakhand has been politically volatile right from the day of its inception.
It has witnessed a change of eight chief ministers in its small life span of less than 17 years which has taken a toll in terms of development and execution of government programmes in a big way.
The BJP will try to ensure that the candidate it picks to anoint as the next chief minister gets to complete his entire term. At present the three front runners for the post are – the Chaubattakhal MLA Satpal Maharaj, the Doiwala MLA Trivendra Singh Rawat and the Pithoragarh MLA Prakash Pant.
Who is the front runner?
Of these three, Satpal Maharaj is being seen as the front runner. Observers say that he fits the role of an ideal RSS candidate for the post despite not having been groomed by the organisation.
According to them the prime factor that works to his advantage is the image of a Hindu godman who has been very active in the socio-political sphere. Whether he had won an election or lost it, 65-year-old Maharaj is remembered for his series of yatras over the last three decades.
Observers say that apart from the top BJP leadership supporting him, Maharaj also has the support of the National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, whose son Shaurya Doval and nephew Mrinal Doval came out to support him in these elections and even addressed a media briefing supporting Maharaj.
Sources further disclosed that Maharaj also has a good tuning with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as BJP president Amit Shah. A large number of Maharaj's followers abroad have been working to make Modi's overseas visit a success in terms of generating euphoria for his public programmes.
Maharaj's followers had played a big role during Modi's last visit to Australia and East Asia, sources said. He also has a huge network of followers across India including south Gujarat which is the home turf of both Modi and Shah.
Another advantage that he has is the role he had played in the creation of Uttarakhand. As an MP and a union minister from the Congress (under ND Tiwari) he had taken up the issue of Uttarakhand creation with the then prime ministers HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral besides the then West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. He had also convinced these leaders about granting complete statehood to Uttarakhand instead of making it a union territory.
Maharaj also has an upper hand in terms of being first of the Congress flock to have joined the BJP. His strained relations with the outgoing Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat are well known and he had quit the Congress the moment he came to know that the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi had approved Rawat's appointment as the chief minister after removing Vijay Bahuguna.
Maharaj had also played a major role to ensure BJP's victory in the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
But the biggest hurdle for Maharaj remains is his Congress background. Those who have grown in the RSS and the BJP would not want an import from the Congress to become the chief minister of the state. Besides his elevation to the post might put an end to aspirations of several BJP leaders eying the post in the near future.
The dark horse
The leader that could emerge as a dark horse in the race to the chief minister's post is Trivendra Singh Rawat. He has been elected from the Doiwala seat that was represented by former BJP Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank in 2012.
Rawat's biggest asset is his strong RSS background. He is also seen as one of Amit Shah's blue-eyed boys and has an equally good tuning with Modi as well. Observers say his other advantages include his clean image and that he is relatively young at 46.
He has been the president of the state unit of the BJP and also a minister in the state. Rawat was made the party in-charge of Jharkhand where the BJP won the last polls under his guidance. Like Maharaj, he comes from the powerful Thakur lobby of Garhwal region.
“If the RSS wants to place a new face on the chief minister's chair, Trivendra is definitely the front runner. He is acceptable to all the groups within the BJP. He was at one time seen very close to the former chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari but had good relations with subsequent BJP chief ministers also. He has a good equation with the top central leadership,” said a senior political observer in Dehradun.
The third contender
The third name doing the rounds for the coveted post is that of Pithoragarh MLA Prakash Pant. He also has the advantage of having been groomed by the RSS and comes from the powerful Brahmin lobby of Kumaon and that from the home turf of the outgoing chief minister Harish Rawat.
Pant is a soft spoken leader who ventured into politics from the profession of a pharmacist. He was the speaker in the interim Koshiyari government and went on to hold important portfolios like finance and tourism under the successive BJP chief ministers Major General (Retired) BC Khanduri and Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank. He can emerge as the BJP face from Kumaon.
Observers say that caste will play an important role in determining the chief minister of the state.
“If the BJP anoints a Thakur chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, it might want to balance it with a Brahmin face in Uttarakhand or vice versa. Though these are two different states now, the political calculations and strategies are often done with a view to do a balancing act,” said a political observer.
Uttarakhand polls was one of those rare occasions when the BJP had not declared a chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polling. This strategy played well to the advantage of the party because the party had entered the poll arena with too many political heavyweights.
While some of them were traditional BJP leaders and also those with RSS backgrounds, there were also those who had come from the Congress over the last one year. The party was in no position to afford infighting ahead of the polls.
Sources said that it was Amit Shah was keeping a hawk's eye on the party affairs in the state reprimanding anyone who tried to do something that could hamper the poll prospects. It is being said that Shah will be the one who has the last word on choosing the state's next chief minister.
Except for the state BJP president Ajay Bhatt all the other party heavyweights have won their respective seats in the Assembly polls.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen