Tirath Singh Rawat | The surprise successor

A low-profile leader with RSS roots has been picked to lead Uttarakhand govt.

For Tirath Singh Rawat, the new Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, his election to the top job by the BJP Legislature Party in the hill State was a bittersweet moment. Four years ago, he was on the other side of the aisle. In 2017, when candidates were being selected for the Assembly polls in the State, Mr. Rawat found himself out in the cold, despite being a senior leader and a former State unit chief between 2013 and 2016.

Being overlooked for ticket was a slight to Mr. Rawat, but he held his peace, didn’t speak out against the party and accepted the decision. His return as Chief Minister is a sweet victory for him.

Those who know Mr. Rawat swear by his low profile, his lack of an entourage and his habit (rare among even local-level politicians) of picking his own calls. On the face of it, his election looks the typical Narendra Modi-Amit Shah move of rewarding loyalty, but a close examination of Mr. Rawat’s rise reveals that his quiet demeanour and community identity as a Thakur from Pauri district, a traditional talent pool for the Chief Ministers of the State, may also have played a role.

Born on April 9, 1964 at Sinro village in Pauri, Mr. Rawat did his early education in Pauri. He entered active student politics through the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when he was in college.

In 1992, he was elected the students’ union president of the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University.

RSS pracharak

Mr. Rawat had earlier worked as an RSS pracharak from 1983 to 1988, and held various positions in the ABVP and the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha.

His Master’s degree in Sociology and diploma in journalism were geared to a future career in public life. Nobody quite knows when Mr. Rawat came into the orbit of the other big BJP leader from the Pauri area, former Union Minister and Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri, but he was quickly elected to the Legislative Council of the undivided Uttar Pradesh in 1997.

When the new State of Uttarakhand was formed in 2000, Mr. Rawat was appointed Education Minister in the Nityanand Swami government.

Then began his win-some, lose-some streak in the Uttarkhand Assembly. In the 2002 election, the BJP came a cropper and Mr. Rawat failed to win the seat of Chaubatta Khal in Pauri, but in 2007, he was back in the State Assembly, only to lose again in the 2012 election.

Till then, Mr. Rawat was like any other mid-level State leader of the BJP, but in 2013, he fought for the position of State party chief with the encouragement of Mr. Khanduri, against Trivendra Singh Rawat, the man he replaced as Chief Minister on Tuesday. He won the race and took the reins of the State unit of the BJP. But Mr. Trivendra Singh was backed by another party heavyweight, B.S. Koshiyari. The face-off created powerful rivals for Mr. Rawat within the party. The payback was the denial of ticket in the 2017 Assembly election which, some say, was engineered by Mr. Trivendra Singh.

Mr. Rawat retreated quietly to Delhi, and was appointed Himachal Pradesh in-charge and a national secretary of the BJP. He also fought and won the Lok Sabha seat of Pauri in 2019, once held by his mentor Mr. Khanduri, as a consolation for the loss of space in State politics.

In Delhi, he built bridges with then party chief Amit Shah, being his constant companion when he launched tours in areas where the BJP was organisationally weak as part of what was called the “vistarak (expansion) programme” in 2016-17.

Party loyalty

That close proximity, and unquestioned party loyalty may have come handy when the BJP leadership sought a replacement for Mr. Trivendra Singh, who faced corruption allegations and protests from within the party and the Parivar.

When Mr. Trivendra Singh resigned, as asked by party bosses in Delhi, the only thing certain was that his successor would be a fellow Thakur leader from Pauri. Mr. Tirath Singh Rawattrumped all big names in the fray and was chosen as Uttarakhand’s ninth Chief Minister.

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