A serious existential crisis has suddenly emerged for Uttarakhand Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat on Friday as the BJP staked claim to form a new government in the state with support from rebel Congress MLAs. The delegation even met Governor Krishan Kant Paul leaving no doubt their intentions.
Ironically, it is a deja vu of what the Congress suffered in Arunachal Pradesh just a month ago where a group of rebel Congress MLAs joined hands with the BJP and formed a new government by ousting then chief minister Mukut Mithi.
Among the rebel Congress MLAs in Uttarakhand are former chief minister Vijay Bhahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat, Amrita Rawat, Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion, Shaila Rani Rawat, Pradip Batra and Subodh Uniyal.
If the governor agrees to the delegation's demands, then one of three things can happen: President's Rule can be imposed in the state (like it happened in Arunachal Pradesh), an alternate government can be formed or elections can be rescheduled from January 2017 to be held earlier.
Interestingly, the rebel Congress MLAs chose the day of the passage of the annual budget by the state assembly to announce their defection. This initially resulted in the Rawat government's inability to pass the budget. Since the state can't run without authorisation by the assembly to take money out of Consolidated Fund of the state, a constitutional crisis was looming large on Congress government.
However, on Friday, state Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal rejected the Opposition's demand for the division of votes. He announced passage of the budget by voice vote and adjournment of the House till 28 March before he left his chair in the midst of prevailing din.
The Speaker was seen leaving his Chair and making an exit even as a mixed group of BJP and rebel Congress MLAs continued to sit on a dharna in the well clamouring for a division of votes on the budget which they said was their democratic right.
BJP leader Umesh Agarwal alleged that denying the members the right to go for a division of votes on the budget was evasive tactics of the state government in the face of sure defeat.
Anti-government and pro-BJP slogans were also heard in the Vidhan Sabha corridors with two sides challenging and abusing each other.
There were also reports about security at the Raj Bhawan being tightened with BJP and disgruntled Congress MLAs headed there to contend that the ruling party had been reduced to a minority in the state Assembly.
The strength of Uttarakhand Assembly is 71 (including one nominated member) and the Congress has a razor thin majority. The Congress has 36, the BJP has 29, Bahujan Samaj Party 2, Independent 3, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (P) 1.
The Congress leadership and chief minister had been generally dismissive about revolt by Vijay Bahuguna and others. Senior party leaders said the unrest was being used as a bargaining tactic. They claimed that Bahuguna wanted a Rajya Sabha berth, Harak Singh Rawat greater prominence. The Congress leaders also charged that BJP was playing dirty tricks for luring its MLAs.
Though the BJP officially denies that it has anything to do with the internal dissensions within Congress ranks, some of its senior leaders including Kailash Vijavargiya and Shyam Jaju are camping in Dehradun.
With inputs from agencies