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Rift talk flies in Uttarakhand with tourism minister Satpal Maharaj’s copter trouble

Tourism minister Satpal Maharaj wrote to CM Trivendra Singh Rawat seeking to know the reason his helicopter was denied landing twice, giving wind to conspiracy theories in the hill state’s political circles.

dehradun Updated: May 30, 2017 18:58 IST
Anupam Trivedi
Anupam Trivedi
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Uttarakhand,Satpal Maharaj,CM Trivendra Singh Rawat
Uttarakhand tourism minister Satpal Maharaj. (Prithviraj Singh/HT File Photo)

Speculation of differences within the BJP government in Uttarakhand are swirling as the tourism minister alleged a conspiracy after his helicopter was denied twice to land at spots where he was to attend official functions.

His complaint gave wind to conspiracy theories circulating in the hill state’s political circles after a senior cabinet minister praised former Congress chief minister Harish Rawat.

In a letter to chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, tourism minister Satpal Maharaj asked why his helicopter was twice denied permission to land despite his office informing the civil aviation department about the tours in advance. The civil aviation department is under the chief minister.

Also, Maharaj demanded an inquiry to probe possible conspiracy angles.

In the May 29 letter, the minister mentioned two incidents. The first was from May 10 when he was supposed to land in Wan, a remote spot in Chamoli district where was to attend function dedicated to local deity Latu Devta.

The second was on May 23. The minister was denied permission to land at Dronagiri hill in Chamoli district, where his department organised a trek to promote tourism in the area.

A double-engine helicopter from Dehradun brought the minister to at army helipad in Gopeshwar. Thereafter the pilot refused to take him to Dronagiri, citing Director General of Civil Aviation regulations.

The minister was taken aback by pilot’s refusal. “This is not done when my programme was finalised almost 15 days ago. Why this fuss now?” he demanded to know.

Maharaj said the incidents sent a “wrong message” to the masses and demanded an investigation into the “civil aviation department’s behaviour so that nothing similar repeats in the future”.

Political gossip about a rift within the two-month-old BJP government flew over the helicopter drama. The reason was not hard to attribute as Maharaj switched from the Congress in 2014 and was the front-runner for the chief minister’s post before the state assembly polls earlier this year.

He was not chosen after the BJP’s landslide victory, but given a cabinet berth.

Maharaj is spiritual leader with a large fan following across states. So is younger brother, Bhole Maharaj, though the siblings reportedly have a strained relationship.

The previous Congress government gave VIP treatment to Bhole Maharaj and he continues to enjoy the privileges after the BJP came to power.

The grapevines were abuzz already with former Congressman and cabinet minister Harak Singh Rawat’s praise to two former chief ministers Ramesh Pokhriyal of the BJP and Harish Rawat of the Congress a few days ago.

The remarks were viewed as a slur on the incumbent chief minister, Trivendra Rawat. To make matters worse, Maharaj’s letter added fuel to the fire.

Government spokesperson Madan Kaushik dismissed the allegations of a rift, saying Maharaj has raised a point and the “government will look into it”.

First Published: May 30, 2017 18:57 IST