Pushkar Singh Dhami was on Saturday unanimously chosen by the Uttarakhand BJP legislature party to be the eleventh Chief Minister of the state. The change of guard came a day after Tirat Singh Rawat resigned from the post amid infighting and fading chances of his getting elected to the state Legislative Assembly by September 10.
The name of Mr Dhami, considered close to Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, was declared after the 57 Uttarakhand BJP MLAs met at the party headquarters in capital Dehradun. The 45-year-old is a two-time legislator representing the Khatima constituency in the state's Kumaon region. He was an Officer on Special Duty to former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.
Mr Dhami's name was proposed by outgoing Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat and Mr Kaushik and seconded by a number of MLAs, including former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, Union Minister Tomar. No other name was proposed, Mr Tomar said.
Soon after his election as the BJP legislature party leader, Mr Dhami headed for the Raj Bhawan along with a number of MLAs and the central observers to stake his claim to form the government. He will take oath as Chief Minister at 5pm on Sunday, the Uttarakhand Raj Bhavan confirmed.
Soon after being elected as leader of the legislature party, Mr Dhami thanked the BJP leadership for reposing faith in him and said he will deal with the challenges lying ahead with everyone's cooperation, PTI reported.
"My party has appointed a common worker, son of an ex-serviceman, who was born in the border district of Pithoragarh to serve the people. We'll work on people's issues with the cooperation of all. I will carry forward the work done by my predecessors," Mr Dhami said, according to PTI.
Uttarakhand is due for Assembly election in less than a year.
Besides the MLAs, Saturday's meeting was attended by the BJP's central observer Narendra Singh Tomar, who arrived in capital Dehradun around noon, and its state in-charge Dushyant Kumar Gautam. Ahead of the meeting, Mr Tomar held discussions with several state leaders, including Mr Rawat himself.
The names of nearly half-a-dozen MLAs had done the rounds as probables for the top job, including that of Satpal Maharaj, Dhan Singh Rawat, besides Mr Dhami, according to a PTI report. A section of party leaders also recommended former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, the report said.
Tirath Singh Rawat, till then an MP, was sworn in as Chief Minister in March following fierce dissent against Trivendra Singh Rawat. To keep the post, however, Mr Rawat had to win an assembly seat by September 10.
Holding a bye-poll amid the Covid pandemic seems an increasingly distant possibility, though, especially given that the Assembly polls are due in less than a year's time. Moreover, the Election Commission had recently found itself in the midst of a major row over the March-April election in five states held alongside rising infection rates in the second wave.
"A constitutional crisis has emerged in Uttarakhand because there is less than a year for the next election. Will the Election Commission give permission to hold a bye-poll? While it has the mandate to hold an election, there have been instances where it denied permission," former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had told NDTV.
"The Election Commission has given in writing that it cannot hold elections amid the Covid pandemic in certain states," he said.
Meanwhile, Tirath Singh Rawat, who had been in Delhi for the past three days confabulating with the BJP's top leadership, was asked yesterday afternoon to quit. Soon after, he sought an appointment with Governor Baby Rani Maurya, but before that he handed his resignation to party chief JP Nadda.
"Given the constitutional crisis, I felt it was right for me to resign. Bye-polls could not be held because of COVID-19," he said on Friday in a brief statement.
His 114-day stint was packed with controversies. The BJP's Uttarakhand leaders had complained to the Delhi leadership about public anger at some of his pronouncements, including one against ripped jeans. Mr Rawat even embarrassed his party by criticising his predecessor's policy decisions.
His handling of the Kumbh Mela at the peak of the Covid spike and the comment that "no RT-PCR test was required" provoked a huge backlash.
Meanwhile, the opposition Congress lashed out at the change in leadership in the state.
"The BJP's high drama in Dehradun is an insult to the people of Uttarakhand. The Prime Minister had promised to give a double-engine government, but the state only received different Chief Ministers and no development," said Harish Rawat, a former Chief Minister belonging to the Congress, PTI reported.
The opposition party's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the BJP had betrayed the people and Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief JP Nadda were responsible, the agency reported.