100 days of BJP in Uttarakhand: Hits and misses of the TS Rawat govt
Rawat stakes claims while fighting controversies.Updated: Jun 29, 2017 11:49 IST
On Sunday, the BJP completed 100 days as the ruling party of Uttarakhand after scoring a landslide win in the assembly polls earlier this year.
The new chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat, has already been staking claims to progress in education and health and finding himself embroiled in controversies surrounding corruption. He has found a number of opportunities to assert his party’s Hindutva agenda. His time in office has cheered some and concerned others.
Corruption has been the central issue facing the young administration. In his visits to the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress government then in power of high-level corruption and promised the BJP would bring in clean governance. This claim was somewhat muddled by the choice of Rawat as chief minister, since he had been indicted by a commission investigating the last BJP state government for allegedly buying seeds at a greatly inflated price without a proper tender process. At the time, Rawat was the state agriculture minister.
In a bizarre late-night legislative session earlier this month, the investigating commission, now a part of Rawat’s own government, pronounced him innocent in the case, prompting outcries from the Opposition.
Rawat has also been criticised for betraying a BJP poll promise to give substantial authority to the independent Lokayukta anti-corruption body within 100 days of taking power. The government has instead proposed giving special protection to some officials and providing the state government with additional means of control. Qazi Nizamuddin, a member of a Lokayukta advisory committee formed by the Rawat administration, said that the government’s latest plan threatens to render the anti-corruption force “toothless and clawless”.
Meanwhile, there’s been the appearance of a tussle between the state and the Centre about a land acquisition scam estimated to have cost 240 crore. After Rawat announced that he would request a CBI investigation into those responsible — reportedly both state officials and employees of at the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) — the IAS officer who first uncovered the scam was transferred.
More ominously, the Union transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, and the NHAI chairman, Yudhvir Singh Malik, requested that specific NHAI officers not be named in an FIR, suggesting that the highway authority would not work effectively in Uttarakhand otherwise. Rawat waited for three months to initiate the CBI inquiry and was criticised for inaction.
Since taking office, Rawat has pursued Hindutva through a number of symbolic gestures. He set up a cowshed at the chief minister’s official residence. At a university graduation ceremony, Rawat refused to wear an academic gown, describing it as a “relic” of the “colonial past” and suggesting that “purely Indian” attire ought to be worn instead.
The state education minister, Dhan Singh Rawat, subsequently announced the formation of a committee to suggest indigenous clothes that can be worn at graduation events.
The new government has also announced more substantive education reforms. It received approval from the Centre for the establishment of five new vocational institutes: a National Institute of Fashion Technology, a Hospitality University, an Institute of Plastic Engineering, and IT academies in Hardiwar and Almora. The Rawat dispensation has “initiated a series of steps to make education job-oriented and push the state on the development trajectory,” said Kumud Upadhyay, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Kumaon University.
Rawat’s views on prominent development projects in the state are mixed. He has described the All-Weather Road Network in the Chardham region, an initiative sponsored by the Centre for Rs 12,000 crore,
as casting the condition of Uttarakhand’s infrastructure in an unfavourable light. But the new government is heavily endorsing another construction plan that predates it, the Rishikesh-Karanprayag Railway. Rawat is seeking to expand the length of the train line and has started the process of acquiring land.
Evaluating the party’s time in power, BJP state president Ajay Bhatt emphasised the transfer of 97 doctors from the plains to areas in the hills. This lack of good medical care in provincial Uttarakhand is a problem that no government has managed to solve since the creation of state 17 years ago. Its resolution would a major achievement.
HITS AND MISSES
- FOUR HITS
- The Rawat government has gotten approval for the establishment of five institutes of higher learning: a NIFT, a Hospitality University, an Institute of Plastic Engineering, and two IT academies
- It transferred 97 doctors from the plains to the hills, which have long suffered from lack of good medical care
- It reached an agreement with the army to place retired medical specialists of the military in the state-run Srinagar Medical College, which is based in the hills. The former army doctors will be responsible for treating civilian patients
- The state government is preparing the way for construction of the Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail project, a poll promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- FOUR MISSES
- Rawat’s administration oversaw his own exoneration in an ongoing corruption case against him
- It has weakened and delayed the eventual establishment of an independent Lokayukta anti-corruption ombudsman, breaking a campaign promise of the BJP to empower the body within 100 days of taking office
- There was also a delay in causing the CBI to take up a probe in a major land acquisition scam allegedly involving employees of a central body
- After the BJP promised during the campaign to establish a summer capital in Gairsain, pleasing constituencies in the hills, the new administration has evaded the issue.
First Published: Jun 29, 2017 09:05 IST