By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 7 Jun: Cabinet Minister Prakash Pant’s untimely passing has created a large vacuum in Uttarakhand politics. Amenable, easily approachable, very bright and an effective trouble-shooter for the government, Pant was totally different to most other politicians from the state. He had no enemies within the party and outside and could be approached by the common man without any hesitation. However, the vacuum he has left as a minister will be a bigger challenge to fill for the Trivendra Singh Rawat Government. He had a rare capacity to grasp the issues and technicalities related to governance and this ability helped him defend the government very effectively inside the State Assembly during the debates and during Question Hour. He not only effectively responded to questions and queries related to the departments in his charge but also in respect of the departments held by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and even other ministers. When the House was in session, he would be seen arriving early in his office and taking briefing from Secretaries in charge of various departments and prepare himself to defend the government on various issues. Easily, he was the best parliamentary affairs minister any state government could have had. In fact, he could speak extempore on any issue and subject in the House and, on many occasions, he proved to be an effective saviour of the government when any unexpected issue cropped up in the House. Though qualified as a pharmacist, he had developed good technical knowledge of financial issues and could speak on technicalities of the recently introduced GST, too. He represented the state in the GST Council and presented its perspective there very effectively on several occasions in the past one year and a half. It is therefore not going to be easy for the CM to find a suitable replacement for Pant in his cabinet. He has limited options to choose from. With the demise of Pant, there are now three places that have fallen vacant in the Council of Ministers, as two vacancies have existed ever since the government took over in 2017. Parliamentary Affairs is one such responsibility that the CM can’t handle himself and would have to be soon handed over to someone in whom Trivendra Singh Rawat can fully place his trust. Besides this, the person has to be one who can handle this complex responsibility. Political experts assert that it is easier to be a speaker than a parliamentary affairs minister in a state government since it is a major responsibility to steer the government out of trouble every time during moments of embarrassment inside the House. They assert that CM could be looking for an alternative in Urban Affairs Minister Madan Kaushik who is quite close to him or else someone who is not part of this cabinet, so far! Or, someone like Munna Singh Chauhan, who is not only known to have a keen knowledge of parliamentary rules and procedures, but is also a good orator and a mature politician with a good grasp over technicalities of governance. Satpal Maharaj is the number two in the cabinet, but is not considered close to the CM and also has not been impressive as a minister during Question Hour. Of course, it is an opportunity for the CM to fill up all the three vacancies in his council of ministers and he could induct someone like Bishan Singh Chufal or Balwant Singh Bhauryal in place of Pant to provide a regional balance. However, it will require serious open minded consideration on replacing Pant. The next session of the state assembly was expected in June, but could be deferred to July now.