By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 1 Jul: Chief Minister Tirath Singh was suddenly summoned to New Delhi by the party’s central leadership, yesterday, and had a detailed political discussion regarding his contesting the assembly bypoll and other political issues related to Uttarakhand with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda, whom he met late last night. Sources in the party claimed that, irrespective of the speculation regarding the possibility of yet another change in guard, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat looked assured and set to contest the assembly bypoll from the Gangotri seat. However, the final decision on holding the assembly bypoll at Gangotri seat still rests with the Election Commission of India, in view of the fact that the remaining term of the present assembly is less than a year. From that perspective, there is a small window of doubt still persisting whether holding the bypoll is still possible. Speculation in political circles is rife whether Tirath Singh Rawat shall be able to continue as CM or will have to be replaced if the Election Commission does not hold elections.
Speaking to Garhwal Post, Cabinet Minister and Government Spokesman Subodh Uniyal said that the government as well as the party are very confident that the bypolls would be held in Uttarakhand and that the Chief Minister would contest and win. Also, that he would lead the party in the upcoming state assembly elections. When asked about speculations that are rife, he said the government was not bothered about rumours in this regard nor was the party perturbed. Elections would be held and Tirath Singh Rawat would win.
Rawat, in the meanwhile, has been held back in Delhi by the party high command for further consultations. Given his soft demeanour, he is not very vocal in denying the rumours in circulation. However, sources claimed that the Chief Election Officer of Uttarakhand had already communicated the vacancy in the Gangotri Assembly constituency and now it is entirely up to the Election Commission of India to decide on holding the election. Sources claimed that, in case of a chief minister, the Election Commission could waive its convention of not holding the bypolls when the remaining term of the present assembly is less than a year. Sources claimed that the bypoll is likely to be held in the month of August, should the elections be declared this month.
In order to continue as Chief Minister beyond 9 September, Rawat needs to be elected as an MLA from any of the vacant constituencies of the Uttarakhand Assembly before 9 September. It may be recalled that anyone appointed as minister or chief minister in a state should ideally be a member of the state assembly (or the state legislative council wherever it exists) or must get elected to the state assembly within a period of six months from the period of assuming charge under Section 164 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. At the same time, Section 151 of Representation of the People Act, 1951 mentions that the time limit for filling vacancies referred to in sections 147, 149, 150 and 151- notwithstanding anything contained in section 147, section 149, section 150 and section 151, a bye-election for filling any vacancy referred to in any of the said sections shall be held within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy, provided that nothing contained in this section shall apply if—
(a) the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than one year; or
(b) the Election Commission in consultation with the Central Government certifies that it is difficult to hold the by-election within the said period. Legal opinion and the opinion obtained from constitutional experts by the government have suggested that the Election Commissioner was not barred from holding bypoll even if the remainder of the term left for the assembly was less than the year given the special circumstances where the Chief Minister needs to win elections in order to continue as CM beyond 9 September.
Meanwhile, AAP leader Col Ajay Kothiyal (Retd) has already declared his intention to contest from Gangotri and his party has already declared him the party candidate from Gangotri seat. Some sources claimed that, initially, Rawat was hesitant to contest from Gangotri given the fact that, despite the promise that the Devasthanam Board would be dissolved, the government had been unable to do so, thus far. The inability to dissolve the board has led to continued anger among the Char Dham priests against the government. However, sources said that the Centre wanted him to contest from Gangotri seat only instead of getting some MLA to vacate his seat and then declare it to be vacant. That, in the opinion of the BJP leadership, is a far more risky proposition. Sources added that, in case, the Election Commission refuses to hold the bypoll, there is no option before the party but to elect a new CM from the existing MLAs, causing much embarrassment for the party. Such frequent change of guard is bound to result in denting the party’s image. However, the party is confident that the bypoll would be declared during the first fortnight of July and held in August.
By Arun Pratap Singh