With the Congress moving the High Court of Uttarakhand against the imposition of President’s Rule in the state, the stage is set for another round of bruising political battle. Still claiming majority in the assembly, Congress leader and unseated chief minister Harish Rawat on Monday paraded MLAs in his camp before the Governor. Pointing to the new arithmetic in the 70-member House, Rawat contends that since nine rebel Congress MLAs have been disqualified by the Speaker, the effective strength of the House is down to 61. Hence, with 27 Congress MLAs still on his side and six MLAs from the Progressive Democratic Front backing him, Rawat claims the support of 33 MLAs. In fact, he was supposed to have faced the floor test on Monday, but was pre-empted a day before when the Centre imposed President’s Rule. The Congress has termed the move as ‘murder of democracy’ with its vice-president Rahul Gandhi taunting the rendra Modi-led dispensation ‘not to let love of power overrule people’s mandate’. After collapse of the bam Tuki government in Aruchal, the Congress has been alleging a BJP game-plan to destabilize the eight remaining Congress-ruled states. Now that Utattarakhand too has fallen and Assam set to go for polls, the Congress apprehends more trouble for states like Manipur and Himachal under its rule. While Rawat has been alleging use of money power by the BJP to wean away Congress MLAs, the picture has gotten murkier with the rebel MLAs circulating a CD purportedly showing Rawat offering them as much as Rs 5 crore each to switch back to his side. The sting CD has been rubbished by Rawat as fake, but the horse-trading charges show clearly how ugly the situation has become.
The BJP has meanwhile hit back with party leader Arun Jaitley questioning circumstances under which the assembly passed on March 18 ‘a budget rejected by majority MLAs’. Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal allowed the budget appropriation bill to be passed by voice vote even though more than half the members of the House had sought a division, which would have led to recorded voting. According to Jaitley, 35 MLAs comprising 27 BJP and 9 rebel Congress MLAs voting against the appropriation bill were reduced to a ‘minority’, while the 32 MLAs voting in favour prevailed through the Speaker’s ‘falsehood’. Pointing out that neither the Chief Minister nor the Speaker forwarded a certified copy of the ‘defeated’ appropriation bill to the Governor, Jaitley has argued that continuation of the Congress government had become ‘unconstitutiol’ and Uttarakhand has been left ‘without any approved fincial expenditure with effect from 1st April, 2016’. So it is upon the Central government now to authorize expenditure for the Himalayan state under Article 357 after imposing President’s Rule. With the Congress challenging the constitutiolity of the Modi cabinet’s decision in court, there is also much speculation whether the Central government can get both Houses of Parliament to ratify the proclamation of President’s Rule when the budget session re-commences from April 25. Since the notification will have to be ratified within two months, the next month will likely witness intense efforts towards forming an altertive government in Dehradun. Meanwhile, the role and powers of the Speaker as well as scope of the anti-defection law is likely to come under rigorous judicial scrutiny this time. Uttarakhand Governor KK Paul had written to the Speaker ‘not to change the composition of the House’, but the Speaker went ahead nevertheless and disqualified nine MLAs. The rights of legislators need to be clearly delineated and all mitigating circumstances spelt out — to ensure that the anti-defection law is not used cynically to bludgeon legislators in political power games.