A political chain reaction, that was set off in Uttarakhand due to the pandemic and political rivalries over the past few months, is likely to culminate Saturday afternoon as the state BJP legislature party will meet at 3 pm to elect its new leader.
The exercise was warranted by Tirath Singh Rawat's late-night resignation on Friday, ending his extremely brief stint as chief minister.
Ending days of speculation about a change of guard in the state, Rawat on Friday handed over his resignation letter to Governor Baby Rani Maurya past 11 pm, hours after returning from Delhi where he was summoned by the top BJP leadership on Wednesday.
This has warranted the legislature party meeting to choose a new leader less than a year before the state elections are due.
The meeting will begin at the BJP headquarters at 3 pm in the presence of central observer Narendra Tomar and BJP general secretary in-charge of Uttarakhand Dushyant Kumar Gautam.
All the BJP MLAs have been asked to be present at the meeting, Pradesh BJP president Madan Kaushik, who will chair the meeting, said.
The pretext behind the move was to avoid a constitutional crisis that would have frozen the state's polity if Tirath Singh Rawat had continued as chief minister and the Election Commission failed to hold by-polls before 10 September owing to the pandemic.
Tirath, a Member of Parliament from Pauri Garhwal parliamentary constituency, was chuted into the chair as a replacement of erstwhile chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on 10 March but the former wasn't an elected member of the state Assembly. He had until September, as per Constitutional guidelines, to get elected into the House from one of the 70 Assembly constituencies but Tirath chose to resign much before that.
This has spurred the rumour mill to speculate the likely causes behind the sudden replacement in less than four months.
A report in The Print stated that Tirath’s resignation came at the prodding of the BJP high command, who took into account assessments that he may lose the Assembly bypoll if he contests, which would then have a very adverse impact on the party’s prospects in Assembly elections early next year.
Reports also said that Tirath Singh's alleged failure to control the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had also played a role in his ouster.
Then there is an alleged graft case against him from before he became the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. The Uttarakhand High Court had ordered a CBI probe into allegations that Tirath accepted a bribe as BJP's Jharkhand unit in-charge to make an appointment. However, the Supreme Court had stayed the probe on grounds that Tirath wasn't given a chance to respond to the charges.
Tirath has also been somewhat of a controversy's child ever since he came into highlight after assuming the chief minister's chair.
Some names have been doing the rounds for the post of Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. Among them are state higher education minister Dhan Singh Rawat, former BJP state president Banshidhar Bhagat, irrigation minister Satpal Maharaj, Khatima MLA Pushkar Singh Dhami, and forest minister Harak Singh Rawat. Dhan Singh Rawat was among the top contenders for the Uttarakhand CM post last time too when Trivendra Singh Rawat had quit.
A section of party leaders have also suggested the name of former chief minister and Doiwala MLA Trivendra Singh Rawat.
Their argument is that with less than a year to go for the next Assembly polls it is safe to reinstate Trivendra Singh Rawat, who has the experience of helming the affairs of the state, rather than gambling on a new candidate.
However, nothing can be said with a degree of certainty given the BJP' s penchant for springing surprises.
Even Tirath Singh Rawat had emerged as the surprise choice of the party for chief minister belying all speculation when Trivendra Singh Rawat was replaced by him in March this year.
The choice is by no means easy for the BJP as the new chief minister also has to lead the party to the next Assembly polls, which are due early next year.