Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned on Tuesday as the state's ruling BJP opted for course-correction a year before polls, amid growing resentment in the ranks. His exit was certain after his trip on Monday to Delhi, where he had met with the BJP leadership.
Mr Rawat, 60, handed in his resignation to Governor Baby Rani Maurya just days short of completing four years in power, becoming the latest in Uttarakhand's legacy of Chief Ministers exiting before term. A first-timer, he was chosen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the BJP swept the Uttarakhand election in 2017, winning 57 seats in the 69-member assembly. The Congress won just 11 seats.
"I have been working in politics for a while now and my party gave me an opportunity to work as the state Chief Minister for four years - the golden years of my life. Despite coming from a rural background, I was entrusted with the responsibility to lead the state; that is only possible in a party like BJP," said Mr Rawat.
"Now that party has taken a collective decision to entrust the responsibility of state chief ministership to some other leader."
On what could be the reason behind the party deciding to replace him, Mr Rawat said, "I told you it was a collective decision of the party." On being pressed further, he said, "You will have to go to Delhi to find that out."
A state minister, Dhan Singh Rawat, is widely tipped to take over as Chief Minister. Dhan Singh Rawat, who was in Garhwal, took a private chopper to state capital Dehradun this afternoon.
The BJP legislature party in Uttarakhand will meet today to choose a new leader.
Trivendra Singh Rawat had several meetings in Delhi with the BJP leadership, who reportedly received feedback from party MLAs in Uttarakhand that the Chief Minister's below par performance would cost the party in polls due by February.
The move to replace him a year before elections is unusual, given that it is often seen as a vote of no-confidence by the party in its own government. It is also a rare move by the BJP to replace a Chief Minister for non-performance.
Former Chief Minister Harish Rawat of the Congress attacked the BJP, calling Mr Rawat's removal an admission of failure. Even Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, which is trying to register its presence in Uttarakhand, commented. "By changing Chief Ministers, BJP has conceded even before 2022. In four years the BJP did not do a single thing on the basis of which it can seek votes. They are trying to hide their failures by changing the face. BJP should apologise to the people of Uttarakhand for wasting four years," tweeted the party's Manish Sisodia.
Mr Rawat's government had been under scrutiny over its handling of the Chamoli flash flood. Its move to push for work on projects suspended by the Supreme Court was criticised.
On Monday, before meeting with Mr Rawat, BJP chief JP Nadda held talks with Home Minister Amit Shah and senior BJP leader BL Santosh on the situation in the hill state.
Talk of a leadership change in Uttarakhand intensified after two central party observers, Raman Singh and Dushyant Gautam, were sent to Dehradun on Saturday for an assessment.
The two leaders spoke to MLAs, ministers and also with the Chief Minister and leaders of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the ideological mentor of the BJP. Their report to the party president apparently recommended change and damage control. Both leaders are returning to Dehradun to attend the meeting of MLAs.
Many MLAs had reportedly told the leaders said the BJP does not stand a chance of being re-elected under Mr Rawat's leadership.
Mr Rawat's critics accused him of failing to communicate with them or take everyone along. The low profile politician also upset many in his party with his style of functioning. MLAs reportedly flagged to the party that the Chief Minister had been ranked "below average" by some opinion polls.