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Chair and uphill task for Rawat

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Harish Rawat, who dreamt to be the chief minister of Uttarakhand in 2002 and rebelled against the Congress high command in 2012 to press for what he thought was his rightful claim, finally got the crown today when the incumbent Vijay Bahuguna was ousted owing to perceived inefficiency and unpopularity.

Rawat was pacified by the Congress leadership after the Assembly election amid high drama and a long stalemate but he never reconciled to the fact he was denied chief ministership despite leading the party to victory.

Rawat, 65, was upgraded to a cabinet minister in the central government. But he never took his eyes off the Dehradun chair and now has been sent to his state for an uphill task of salvaging the party’s pride before the general election, barely a couple of months away.

The internal surveys indicated a rout for the Congress with all the five seats in the state going to the BJP. The Congress leadership has thought that even an untimely stitch can be of some help.

Rawat is undoubtedly a mass leader unlike Bahuguna who was foisted on the state against the will of the legislators for reasons best known to the same leadership that has woken up to the grassroots reality now.

Bahuguna had been trying his best to protect his chair over the last few months as speculation about his ouster grew louder but the feedback reaching the central leadership indicated his performance hadn’t improved despite repeated warnings.

While his inability to connect with the masses was always a factor, there were allegations that he spent more time in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi instead of focusing on the rebuilding exercise in the wake of severe devastation by the flash floods last year.

Rawat’s name was approved by Congress president Sonia Gandhi who was authorised to name the legislature party leader after a one-line resolution was passed by the MLAs today.

The party had sent senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Janardan Dwivedi and Ambika Soni as observers to ensure smooth transition of power. Dwivedi later announced the name of Rawat, who is at present the water resources minister in the Manmohan Singh government, as the new chief minister.

Rawat has a challenge at hand as the Congress does not have a majority, with only 33 MLAs in the 70-member Assembly. The government survives on the support of a seven-member outfit including three BSP, one UKD and three Independent MLAs.

The BJP has 30 MLAs, tantalisingly close to be tempted into a toppling game if Rawat ruffles too many feathers.

There were other contenders for the top post and their disappointment may only deepen Rawat’s anxieties. The Independents are already pressing for one more ministerial berth though three of them are already in the government.