New Delhi: Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna appears to be on his way out and Union Minister Harish Rawat and state minister Pritam Singh are emerging as the frontrunners for the top job in the hill state.
Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and AICC General Secretaries Janardan Dwivedi and Ambika Soni, who is in charge of party affairs in the state, are being sent there as central observers for the changeover, highly placed Congress sources said.
The observers will go there in a day or two and the change of guard is expected to take place by February two.
A decision has been taken to replace Bahuguna. Rawat and Pritam Singh, who is Food and Civil Supplies Minister in the Bahuguna Cabinet, are the frontrunners, they said.
Others in the race include state Finance Minister Indira Hridayesh.
The decision to replace Bahuguna was taken at a meeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had with senior party leaders yesterday.
Bahuguna has been under pressure ever since he was appointed. The flash floods that hit Uttarakhand last year and the massive rescue and rehabilitation work they entailed also brought his leadership skills into question.
Incidentally, delegations of MLAs and other Congress leaders from the state have been regularly meeting central party leaders here over the past six months to press for Bahuguna`s ouster.=
The Congress, with 33 members in the Assembly, enjoys the support of the seven-member Progressive Democratic Front that comprises three independents, three members of the BSP and one MLA of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. The remaining 30 MLAs are of the BJP.
Rawat who lost to Bahuguna in the race for CM in 2012 ? has been in pursuit of the post but the party high command had not been enthusiastic as it was felt it could intensify factionalism in the deeply divided state unit of the party.
The Union Water Resources Minister was the first PCC president of Uttarakhand after its formation. Rawat, despite leading the party to victory in 2002 Assembly elections as the PCC chief, had to make way for N D Tiwari.
He was sidelined again in 2012, when Vijay Bahuguna became CM. A sulking Rawat was made a cabinet minister at the Centre later.
Reports had it that it could be a close fight between Rawat and Pritam Singh.
Hridayesh recently surprised many by openly staking claim to the top post. The senior most member of Bahuguna Cabinet, Hridayesh had created a flutter by suggesting her name for the post of chief minister in case of a change of guard in Uttarakhand.
"If at all things move in that direction (change of guard), of course I deserve to occupy the top post. I am in parliamentary politics since 1974," she had said.
Incidentally, Pritam Singh belongs to the Rawat camp and the talk is that he could emerge as a compromise candidate if the anti-Rawat factions refuse to accept him. Pritam Singh is an MLA from Chakrata.