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Uttarakhand CM shift signal

New Delhi, Jan. 29: The Congress high command appears to have decided to change Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and name his successor soon, probably within the next couple of days.

Sources said Sonia Gandhi held a meeting of senior leaders at her home this morning to discuss the change of guard in the hill-state. The talks were held against the backdrop of persistent reports about Bahuguna’s unpopularity.

An internal survey suggests the Congress could lose all five Lok Sabha seats in the state, the sources said. The governor’s reports to the Centre, too, have been critical of Bahuguna, the sources added.

Senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sushil Kumar Shinde are scheduled to travel to Dehradun tomorrow to assess the mood of Congress MLAs before the new chief minister is announced.

Union minister Harish Rawat, who had rebelled when Bahuguna was chosen after the 2012 election, leads the aspirants, though many fear that the outgoing chief minister would try to scuttle his chances. Rawat, however, is said to enjoy the backing of key leaders Delhi.

Though the party had been denying reports of a change in Uttarakhand, the decision to send Azad and Shinde as observers indicates the process of transition has been set in motion.

The change would have come much earlier but was delayed mainly because the Bahuguna-led government survives on the crutches of Independents as the Congress did not secure a majority on its own.

The Congress won only 33 of the 70 seats in the Assembly while the BJP was tantalisingly close with 30. The Congress sewed up majority with the help of three BSP legislators and four Independents.

Bahuguna won over and retained the Independents, who conveyed to the Congress leadership that any alternative arrangement would not be stable.

Bahuguna suffered a shock in his early days when his son Saket lost the Lok Sabha seat vacated by him. But the countdown to his ouster began when perceptions about his inefficiency deepened after last summer’s floods in the hill-state, including Kedarnath. Thousands died and innumerable villages were wiped out.

The disaster management could have been an opportunity for Bahuguna to redeem himself but he frittered away the chance, leaving the task of rebuilding to bureaucrats. The state unit conveyed to the high command its fears about the impending electoral disaster if Bahuguna continued.

The sources pointed to other problems too, such as controversies around his son and the alleged importance given to the lobby of builders. The chief minister is the son of the veteran H.N. Bahuguna, who was revered in the region as Himalaya Putra (son of the Himalayas).