Senior BJP leader Trivendra Singh Rawat, who has a long RSS background, will be sworn in as the Uttarakhand chief minister on Saturday, ending speculation about the party’s choice for the post after its landslide assembly election victory.
The BJP went to the polls without naming a candidate for the chief minister’s position, which fuelled a guessing game for the past six days since the election results were announced. The party won 57 seats in the 70-member assembly.
The 56-year-old Rawat, known to be close to BJP chief Amit Shah, emerged as the frontrunner in Uttarakhand from a pool of at least six names.
He was elected leader of the BJP legislative party on Friday, which cleared the way for him to become the ninth chief minister of the young state.
The swearing-in will be in Dehradun on Saturday afternoon in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Shah.
“I have a single point agenda, which is development … I will ensure 100% to offer better services to the people,” the chief minister-elect said in an interview to Hindustan Times.
“People are struggling for basic amenities even 16 years after Uttarakhand was formed. The condition of schools, public healthcare and roads is pathetic. Besides, there is no employment opportunity.”
Rawat’s immediate task will be to select his council from more than four dozen claimants for ministerial berths. Besides him, the Uttarakhand cabinet can have no more than 11 ministers.
“All 57 candidates who won the assembly elections belong to the BJP. Ours is a cadre-based party and no decision is taken alone. Distribution of portfolios too will be done with due consent of the legislators and national party leaders,” Rawat said.
The party will have to make its choice between loyalists and Congress turncoats who joined the BJP last year after rebelling against outgoing chief minister Harish Rawat.
Among the 10 Congress rebels who contested, eight won. They are reportedly eyeing a “big role” in the government now.
At least two former Congressmen — Harak Singh Rawat and Subodh Uniyal — could be accommodated in the cabinet, sources said.
Political scions — Vijay Bahuguna’s son Saurabh and BC Khanduri’s daughter Ritu — are likely to make it to the coveted list too. Both Bahuguna and Khanduri are former chief ministers.
“We have won with a huge mandate and obviously legislators have expectations. But let me assure you, it (cabinet formation) will be a smooth affair,” said Ajay Bhatt, the state BJP president.
Rawat, a Thakur, faced stiff competition himself for the chief minister’s post from former minister Prakash Pant and former parliamentarian Satpal Maharaj, a Congress leader who joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
“But Amit Shah’s support to Rawat seems to have tilted the balance,” a BJP source said.
Rawat was one of Shah’s three deputies in Uttar Pradesh where the BJP swept all but seven seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections. He is also credited with the BJP’s win in Jharkhand.
The BJP’s organisational man and party in-charge in Jharkhand served as a minister in the hill state’s BJP government in 2007.
“Rawatji’s track record as minister was noticed, not only because of his ability to deliver but also for the way he handled the bureaucracy,” state BJP spokesperson Virendra Singh Bisht said.
Born into a soldier’s family in Khaira-sain, a mountain village 60km from Pauri, Rawat took an unconventional step to join politics after his graduation.
“My father wanted me to take up a career in the army but I chose politics,” he said.
In the latest elections, he won his traditional Doiwala seat by defeating Congress’s Hira Singh Bisht with more than 24,000 votes.
The BJP is likely to accommodate one of its senior legislators as the assembly speaker. The frontrunner race is eight-time MLA Harbans Kapoor, who was speaker in 2007.
(With inputs from Deep Joshi, Nihi Sharma and Kumar Uttam)