Dehradun: Former Army General Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri on Sunday took over as the new Uttarakhand Chief Minister, vowing to fight corruption as BJP handed him the reins of power barely six months ahead of Assembly polls in an apparent bid to salvage its sagging image.

 MORE:Nishank resigns as Uttarakhand CM

Capping a two-day high voltage political drama at New Delhi, Nishank resigned this morning after being given marching orders by the party high command, paving the way for 76-year-old Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri to take the reins of the government as it braces for the February elections.

After Nishank, 54, put in his papers, Khanduri was elected as the new leader of the BJP legislature party by a voice vote.

Governor Margaret Alva administered the oath of office and secrecy to Khanduri, who returns to the top post two years after he was removed by the party after it lost all the five Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 general elections.

All the eleven ministers, who were part of Nishank cabinet, have been retained by Khanduri.

The cabinet ministers who took oath at the function at Rangers Ground here were Matbar Singh Kandari, Banshidhar Bhagat, Prakash Pant, Diwakar Bhatt, Madan Kaushik, Trivendra Singh Rawat, Rajendra Singh Bhandari, Govind Singh Bist, Vijaya Barthwal, Khajan Das and Balwant Singh Bhoryal.

Political observers described the move as a "face-saving formula" of the ruling BJP in the state. After B S Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, Nishank has become the second Chief Minister to be removed by the BJP high command in a little over a month.

Nishank, who arrived from New Delhi this morning after talks with party leadership, went to Raj Bhavan to hand over his resignation to the Governor Alva.

Nishank later told reporters, "I'm a party worker. I will do whatever the party wants me to do."

Later, Khanduri, an old war-horse, was elected as the new leader by BJP MLAs unanimously at a meeting where Ravishankar Prasad and state incharge Thavar Chandra Gehlot acted as central observers.

The high-drama began unfolding on Friday with rumours that Nishank was on his way out. Sources said the decision to remove Nishank was taken by the BJP parliamentary board after assessing the political situation in Uttarakhand.

They claimed that senior BJP leader L K Advani was unhappy with the functioning of Nishank due to a string of corruption scandals.

However, party president Nitin Gadkari on Saturday denied that Nishank was facing any graft charges and praised Nishank for accepting the party's decision. He had also underlined that the only reason for the change was the forthcoming polls.

Nishank government had come under cloud over alleged irregularities in a Rishikesh housing project, hydro-power projects and in conduct of Mahakumbh.

The party was also riddled with infighting among the camps led by Nishank, Khanduri and former chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.

Senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh, however, said the change of guard was part of poll strategy and ruled out any kind of "groupism" in the state.

"The decision was taken unanimously and there is no groupism. Nishank will have an effective role to play in the party," Singh told reporters in Lucknow.

Elections to the 70-member Assembly in Uttarakhand were held in early 2007.

Khanduri returns to helm after 3 years

A retired Army Major General who rose to prominence in BJP by a quirk of fate, Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri returns as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand after a gap of three years.

Forced out of office in 2009 following a campaign by his bete noire former Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari after the party lost all five Lok Sabha seats in the hill state, 76-year-old Khanduri's return to power comes at a time when the party is preparing for Assembly polls due next year.

When BJP gave a ticket to Khanduri to contest the polls from Pauri constituency in 1991, he refused the offer since his first cousin and Congress leader Vijay Bahuguna was expected to be fielded from there.

But at the eleventh hour, Congress denied a ticket to Vijay Bahuguna, son of late Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister H N Bahuguna who was Khanduri's maternal uncle.

This opened the door for Khanduri to contest the parliamentary polls and he shot into fame by defeating senior Congress Satpal Maharaj from Pauri seat.

Born on October 1, 1934, Khanduri, who was an engineer in the Army, became Chief Whip of BJP parliamentary party in 1992. In 1996, he lost the elections to Maharaj but became
Vice President of BJP's Uttar Pradesh unit.

He was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from Pauri in 1998 and again in 1999 when he again became chief whip of BJP during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure as Prime Minister.

In 2000, Khanduri became Union Minister of State with independent charge of Road Transport and Highways Ministry. Three years later, he was elevated to Cabinet rank with
additional charge of Poverty Alleviation and Development.

In 2004, he was re-elected to the Lok Sabha for the third successive time from Pauri before BJP lost power at the Centre.

When elections were announced in Uttarakhand in 2007, BJP's central leadership made Khanduri the Chairman of the election campaign committee and gave a clear indication that
he might become the Chief Minister if the party came to power in the hill state.

After BJP did win the polls, Khanduri became the fourth Chief Minister of the state. But Khanduri continued to face opposition from his political foe Koshiryai that led to his ouster soon after the 2009 general elections.

Interestingly, it was believed in political circles that Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank was handpicked by Khanduri as his successor.

However, as series of alleged scandals mired Nishank's stint, Khanduri's camp led the offensive against him finally leading to his ouster from the top job.

(JPN/Agencies)