On May 11, Harish Rawat resumed charge as chief minister of Uttarakhand, the second time since the state was put on a politico-legal roller-coaster ride on March 18 when nine of his MLAs rebelled against him on the floor of the house and the Centre imposed president’s rule on March 28. After several twists and turns, Rawat won a court-ordered and -monitored trust vote on the floor of the house. A triumphant Congress has reasons to celebrate, while the BJP is perceived as having lost out both politically and legally.
Rawat’s lawyer, party colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said it was for the first time in independent India that the triple hierarchical process of a single-judge bench, a division bench, and the Supreme Court, through an interim order, had reached a conclusion on proclamation of Article 356 in six weeks. “It proves that such political and legal misadventures in the abode of gods constitutes a Himalayan blunder,” he said.
Even before the Supreme Court had announced the results of the trust vote, the state Congress had begun celebrating, feting Rawat with slogans and bouquets and distributing sweets. In the Lok Sabha, an emboldened Congress raised slogans against the Modi government, while its legislators in the Rajya Sabha did not allow the appropriation bill for Uttarakhand to be passed.
The fortunes of both the BJP and the Congress have gone through multiple upheavals in this political tug-of-war. However, the writing was on the wall for the BJP as Rawat lined up his MLAs outside the Vidhan Sabha gates before going in for the vote of confidence on May 10. He had more MLAs by his side than the BJP camp. Though there was some excitement on the saffron side when Congress MLA Rekha Arya, a last-minute conquest for the BJP before the vote of confidence, joined them, it was momentary.
Rawat got 33 of 61 votes, excluding the Speaker and a nominated member. This was two more than the revised halfway mark as the nine Congress rebels, who had been disqualified, were not allowed to vote. The next day, the results were submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope. Even before the envelope was opened, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that Rawat had won the trust vote and the Centre was lifting president’s rule immediately.
A senior BJP leader, who was rushed to Dehradun by party chief Amit Shah on the eve of the vote on Finance Bill on March 18 and has been camping there ever since, claimed the party was on the verge of staking claim to form government prior to the High Court quashing president’s rule. He said they had the support of six Congress MLAs besides the nine rebels and at least two of the three independents backing the Rawat government. The party had also attempted to woo the two BSP MLAs backing the government.
But with the court verdicts repeatedly questioning imposition of president’s rule and emphasising the importance of a floor test to judge whether the government enjoys majority or not, and the disqualified MLAs also not getting any legal reprieve, the lines that had been established with these legislators by BJP strategists, including Madhya Pradesh leader Kailash Vijayvargiya, went dead. BSP supremo Mayawati also decided not to help the BJP in view of the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh next year as she didn't want to hurt her Muslim vote bank.
The Uttarakhand victory has come as a morale booster for the Congress at a time when its leaders are fighting allegations of corruption in the AgustaWestland deal. Congress leaders said the BJP will now not dare repeat the Arunachal model—of effecting defections, imposing President’s rule and then forming its own government—in any other state. There were apprehensions of Himachal Pradesh and Manipur being next on the radar of the BJP. “Democracy has won. It is because of the Supreme Court that the floor test was made possible in Uttarakhand. This is a lesson for the BJP, which tried to kill democracy,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP's defeat has been on the floor of the house, and legally, too. The Centre failed to convince the courts with its reasoning that the Speaker had acted in a mala fide manner in not allowing a division of the votes, and passed the Budget in an illegal manner. The BJP also argued that matters would have been different had the disqualified MLAs been allowed to vote. State BJP chief Ajay Bhatt said: “We were 27 on March 18. We became 36 when Congress MLAs listened to their conscience and decided to get rid of a government that runs on fear and corruption. If they had the majority, they would have passed the Budget.”
However, there is discontent in the BJP over how the leadership handled the situation in Uttarakhand. It is felt that the adventurism was completely unnecessary. State leaders say elections were just months away, and the Congress government was extremely unpopular. “Rawat was seen as an 'announcements CM', who would only announce schemes and not do anything. However, he is now getting the sympathy of the public,” said a BJP MLA.
Rawat, meanwhile, is projecting himself as someone who fought off a power-hungry Union government. Also, there are indications that the Congress is contemplating calling elections rather than waiting till February 2017, when assembly polls are due. “Rawat is battling accusations of horse-trading. There are sting operations and a CBI inquiry to deal with. So we have to assess, constituency-wise, what the sentiment is like. This will take a couple of months, after which the party will decide on calling early elections,” said a senior Congress leader.
But, the final legal verdict on Uttarakhand, be it the legality of imposition of president’s rule or the disqualification of the Congress rebels, is still awaited.