Seeking to salvage its sagging image in poll-bound Uttarakhand, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday announced that Bhuvan Chand Khanduri would replace Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank as the chief minister of the state.
After two long rounds of talks with Nishank, the BJP top brass convinced him to step down from the post of chief minister in the wake of a series of alleged scams against his government.
"Keeping in view the forthcoming elections in Uttarakhand, the BJP has decided for a change of leadership in Uttarakhand. B C Khanduri will be the new chief minister of the state. The decision will be endorsed by the party MLAs at a meeting in Dehradun on Sunday," party president Nitin Gadkari told reporters after a four-hour meeting.
He was flanked by Nishank and party general secretary Ananth Kumar.
"It was conveyed to Nishank that the party wants a change of leadership in view of the elections. There have been some allegations in the media that there are cases of corruption against him. The party wants to make it clear that there are no charges against him," Gadkari said.
He reiterated that the only reason for the change were the forthcoming polls.
BJP general secretary and chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad will be the central observer during the meeting of legislators for finalising Khanduri's name.
Sources said though the decision to appoint Khanduri had been taken at the Parliamentary Board meeting of the party last Friday, the BJP top brass did not want to ruffle any feathers by sacking Nishank unceremoniously.
Gadkari insisted that even after Nishank quits his post, he will be given due respect in the organisation and will play an important role in the BJP's election campaign in Uttarakhand.
"I am grateful to Nishank that when the decision to go for a change of leadership was conveyed to him, he accepted it with grace in the best interests of the party," Gadkari said.
Nishank will meet the Uttarakhand governor on Sunday afternoon and submit his resignation. Khanduri is likely to take oath on Sunday or on Monday before the start of the 'shraddha' month, which is not considered auspicious for making a new beginning.
This will be Khanduri's second term as chief minister in this assembly which was elected in early 2007. He was made the chief minister after the polls but had to step down in June 2009 when his bete noire Bhagat Singh Koshiyari rebelled against him and claimed to have the support of a majority of party MLAs.
Earlier on Saturday morning, the BJP top brass held a meeting with Nishank and conveyed to him that he will have to step down in the wake of a series of alleged scams facing his government.
However, the party did not want to embarrass him before the National Integration Council meeting, for which he had come to the national capital. Hence, the announcement was put off till late evening.
Nishank's performance had not been up to the mark and the alleged cases of graft were affecting the BJP's image in the hill state, sources said.
Khanduri, a former army officer, has the image of a honest and no-nonsense leader who commands a lot of respect among retired defence personnel in Uttarakhand. The state sends a lot of young men to the defence forces.