The crisis in Uttarakhand has brought two questions to the fore — first, political morality of the BJP and nine rebel Congress MLAs who have joined hands with the former to oust incumbent Chief Minister Harish Rawat from office; second, the constitutional validity of the government of the day.
The issue of political morality has been and can be endlessly debated and strong arguments can be advanced for both sides, depending on one’s leaning. That debate has been going on since Jawaharlal Nehru government at the Centre dismissed in 1959 the first elected non-Congress government led by EMS Namboodripad in Kerala. This debate will go on for decades to come.
Politics, after all, is the art of the possible.
In Uttarakhand, as in Arunachal Pradesh, some Congress legislators have raised the banner of revolt against their own party’s Chief Minister and joined hands with the BJP to overthrow their leader.
The question of constitutionality and sustainability of the Harish Rawat government thus becomes important. It also raises the question whether the nine MLAs who joined hands with the BJP have already invited provisions of anti-defection law. The other issue is what options the BJP has at its disposal if the Harish Rawat government ultimately falls.
Let’s consider the ground situation.
A day after the BJP and the Congress petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee on a political crisis in Uttarakhand, all eyes are on Governor KK Paul. It is the latter who has to take the final call on the sustainability of the Rawat government.
Though all political parties rush to the President to apprise him of their side of the story, the President usually keeps his counsel and refrains from sending any specific directive to the Governor or the Centre. Petitioning the head of the state is an essential part of the attempts to build public opinion and put some kind of pressure on the other side. The Governor, in any case, is his nominee and is representative of his mandate.
Though Governor Paul has given time till 28 March to Rawat to prove his majority on the floor of the House, the BJP is contesting that and seeking a review of his position. The Constitution provides great deal of discretionary powers to the Governor and the Speaker to make a judgment on legal, constitutional validity of a situation.
There are, however, contradictions in the position taken by the Speaker — sending notices to nine MLAs on grounds that they invited action against them as per anti-defection law; and Governor that Rawat be given a week’s time prove his majority.
On 18 March, the Speaker, Govind Singh Kunjal, had ruled that the Budget presented by Harish Rawat government was passed by voice vote. He didn’t allow division (voting) on Finance Bill. If the Speaker is right in his claim then the nine Congress MLAs didn’t defy their party whip and said “ayes” in voice vote. In that case they shouldn’t have been sent disqualification notices.
Conversely, if these nine MLAs did defy the party whip and voted against government’s budgetary proposals then the number of MLAs who said “No” was much larger than those approving it. This means that voice vote went against the government and Finance Bill didn’t actually carry. The constitutional provision is clear — if the Finance Bill/Money Bill is defeated on floor of the House then the government falls.
If the rebel Congress MLAs and BJP together rejected the Finance Bill in Uttrakhand Assembly, then the numbers should be frozen as on 18 March night and in that case Rawat government has already lost the mandate to rule. That the Speaker, using his discretion, didn’t allow the division or voting on the bill to take place is a matter worth debating. The BJP has alleged that the Speaker is acting like the “Chief Minister’s agent” than an independent constitutional authority.
Rawat has gone on record saying that the Budget was passed by voice vote and whatever ruckus happened inside the House happened it was adjourned. If that is the case, then why issue notices to the rebels? Going to Governor’s House with BJP leaders in the same bus is no crime that Speaker could question, it happened outside of Assembly.
Governor Paul has to scrutinise the developments closely and take appropriate action. He cannot afford to be anything but neutral. The former Delhi Police Commissioner is taken in political circles “as a Presidential nominee both in letter and spirit”.
Though the BJP is pushing for the dismissal of Rawat government, its own options for formation of a government is very tight. The strength of Uttarakhand Assembly is 71 (including one nominated member). The Congress has 36, BJP 29, Bahujan Samaj Party 2, Independent 3, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (P) 1.
The BJP can’t repeat an Arunachal-type experiment in Uttarakhand because the ground situations are different. It can’t back a government led by a Congress legislator for two reasons, the number of Congress rebels is thin and secondly the state is too close to Assembly elections, otherwise scheduled for December-January 2016-17.
If the BJP forms a government and nine rebels support it then they (nine) would be liable for action under anti-defection law. Moreover, the BJP will have very less time to perform and that too under pressures from prospective supporters — Congress rebels, BJP,UKD and Independents. President’s Rule is only viable option but it will have the problem of getting the move ratified by Rajya Sabha where Congress and its supportive parties have larger numbers.
Devbhumi Uttrakhand had turned into a Machiavellian political ranbhoomi, but it’s not an easy battle for either side.