Explained: 8 CMs in 20 years, ninth on the way — a short history of political instability in Uttarakhand


Written by Lalmani Verma
, Edited by Explained Desk | Dehradun |

Updated: March 9, 2021 8:12:00 pm

The two decades of Uttarakhand’s existence have been marked by political instability, with eight politicians occupying the Chief Minister’s post since 2000, when the hill state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh.

With the resignation of Trivendra Singh Rawat on Tuesday (March 9), a ninth Chief Minister — and the sixth from the BJP — is set to take over on Wednesday. With just a year to go for Assembly elections, the new incumbent in the post will have his task cut out.

Only one Chief Minister — Congress veteran N D Tiwari — has completed his full five-year term.

First change, within a year

When Uttarakhand became a separate state on November 9, 2000, BJP leader Nityanand Swami was sworn in to head the interim government. But before he could complete one year, the party asked him to resign to make way for his cabinet colleague Bhagat Singh Koshyari, who is now the Governor of Maharashtra and Goa.

Votes in Uttarakhand are divided along three lines — hill and plains; Kumaoni and Garhwali; and Thakur and Brahmin. Swami was from Dehradun — a plain area in Garhwal — but Uttarakhand was supposed to be a “hill state”.

Koshyari — who belonged to the hill town of Bageshwar in Kumaon division and had been the frontrunner for the Chief Minister’s post at the time the state came into existence — replaced Swami on October 30, 2001, four months before Assembly elections. The change was widely seen to have been made under pressure from the leaders who had led the movement for statehood.

Enter the Congress

Changing the Chief Minister did not help the BJP in the Assembly elections of 2002. The Congress emerged victorious, and N D Tiwari, a seasoned politician who had been Chief Minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh thrice, was sworn in to lead the government in Dehradun.

Tiwari served his full five-year term until 2007, but faced challenges from various factions within the party organisation throughout his tenure.

Return of the BJP — and instability

The BJP returned to power in 2007, and Maj Gen B C Khanduri (retd), who had been Minister in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Cabinet, was sworn in as Chief Minister. But Khanduri survived in the chair for only a little over two years — in June 2009, a few months before the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, the party replaced him with Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, who is now India’s Minister for Education.

But Nishank too, lasted just two years — he was asked to resign in September 2011, and Gen Khanduri returned as Chief Minister only five months before Assembly elections.

Back to Congress — and more instability

The BJP had hoped that the return of Khanduri would refurbish the image of its government and the party, and help it buck anti-incumbency in the Assembly elections.

But its hopes were belied — the BJP won 31 seats while Congress won 32, and formed the government with support from the BSP and Independents. Khanduri himself lost the election from Kotdwar; Nishank, however, won the Doiwala seat in Dehradun.

Congress leader Vijay Bahuguna — who is now in the BJP — became Chief Minister in March 2012, but did not last long in the post. He resigned before two years were out, at the end of January 2014, in the aftermath of the devastating Kedarnath floods of 2013.

Harish Rawat took oath as Chief Minister on February 1, 2014 — but was felled by the continued infighting within the Congress. In March 2016, nine Congress MLAs including Vijay Bahuguna rebelled against Rawat’s leadership and his government was dislodged. The 70-member House — the 71st is a nominated member — was placed in suspended animation and the state was put under President’s Rule.

While Harish Rawat did manage to return to power after winning the floor test later that summer, the damage was done. In the Assembly elections of 2017, the Congress fell to 11 seats, and the BJP rode the Narendra Modi wave to power, winning 57 seats in the Assembly.

Four years of Trivendra Rawat

After the grand victory, the BJP announced Trivendra Singh Rawat as Chief Minister. But days before he was to complete four years in power on March 18 — and his government was to launch its election campaign across all 70 constituencies — Trivendra Rawat is gone.

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Speculation over the Chief Minister’s future had been swirling for days before he finally submitted his resignation to Governor Baby Rani Maurya on Tuesday. On Saturday (March 6), BJP national vice-president Raman Singh had arrived in Dehradun and held a meeting of the party’s state core committee. On Monday, Trivendra Rawat met BJP national president J P Nadda in New Delhi.


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