Dehradun/New Delhi: Vijay Bahuguna, the Congress MP from Tehri Garhwal, was Tuesday sworn in as Chief Minister of the Indian state of Uttarakhand after the Congress leadership overruled dissent by Chief Ministerial aspirant Harish Rawat, who is learnt to have offered to resign from the union council of ministers.
Bahuguna was administered oath of office and secrecy at a simple ceremony at Parade Ground here by Governor Margaret Alva.
The swearing-in came amid strong demand by a section of Congress leaders in Uttarakhand that Rawat, who is minister of state for agriculture and parliamentary affairs, be given the top job.
Sources said Harish Rawat sent his resignation to the party leadership following its decision to appoint Bahuguna as Chief Minister. However, Rawat did not confirm or deny that he had sent in his resignation.
Rawat, who is party MP from Hardwar, was in contention for Chief Minister’s post along with a few other leaders but lost out to Bahuguna.
Bahuguna, 65, was chosen as leader of the Congress legislature party (CLP) by party president Sonia Gandhi Monday evening. He is the son of late Congress leader Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna.
The swearing-in function was attended by former Chief Minister N.D. Tiwari, union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, party general secretary Birender Singh, party MP Satpal Maharaj, state Congress chief Yashpal Arya, and Bahuguna’s sister Rita Bahuguna Joshi. Azad and Singh had interacted with MLAs to take a decision on the choice of Chief Minister.
The Congress had performed marginally better than Bharatiya Janata Party in the assembly polls securing 32 of 70 seats. BJP had won 31 seats.
Congress later secured support of three independents and the lone MLA of Uttarkhand Kranti Dal (P). The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has three MLAs, also offered to support the Congress in the hill state.
Sources said only 11 of the 32 Congress MLAs were present at the swearing in besides three independent MLAs and lone MLA of UKD(P).
Congress leaders Harak Singh Rawat and Indra Hridayesh, who were themselves aspirants for the Chief Minister’s post, were conspicuous by their absence.
The swearing-in ceremony took place even as Harish Rawat and his supporters were closeted at his residence in Delhi to decide the next course of action.
Sources said Harish Rawat conveyed to the party leadership that he had been overlooked a second time as he had to make way for N.D. Tiwari when the Congress won the elections in 2002.
Congress leadership kept a close eye on the developments through the day. Party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi ruled out a rethink.
Congress spokesperson Raashid Alvi affirmed that a decision taken by the leadership was acceptable to all party workers.
“The decision of the Congress high command is acceptable to all the party workers,” Alvi said.
Supporters of Rawat, including party MP Pradeep Tamta, came out in the open to oppose the decision of party leadership.
Tamta told reporters in New Delhi that there was an understanding that the CLP leader will be chosen from among MLAs but an MP had been chosen for the post. He said ‘injustice’ had been again done to Rawat.
Tamta said Rawat was denied a chance to be Chief Minister when the party came to office in 2002.
“At that time we accepted it because it was Tiwari who was big in stature. This time we will not accept,” he said.
Asked about the number of MLAs supporting Harish Rawat, Tamta said they would disclose the strategy at the right time.
Asked if they had support of 17 MLAs, Tamta said they had bigger support. “We will let you know the number as and when it is required.”
However, he denied reports that Harish Rawat had either met or spoken to BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Unconfirmed media reports had said that Rawat met Gadkari Monday night.
Bahuguna had told reporters in Dehradun earlier in the day that he will form his cabinet over the next few days after consulting the party high command. He had also expressed confidence about overcoming rebellion within party ranks.