On 31 March, Harish Rawat will seek a confidence vote on the floor of Uttarakhand state Assembly. That’s the order of the Uttarakhand High Court. The result of the test may have an immediate bearing on the fate of bickering political rivals — the Congress and the BJP.
The high court ruling comes after about 48 hours of imposition of President’s Rule in the state. The court has made a unique arrangement. President’s Rule will continue to be in force and at the same time, the dismissed chief minister, Harish Rawat, will seek a confidence vote in the Assembly.
The outcome of the trust vote, to be conducted in presence and under the “observation” of registrar of Uttarakhand High Court, will not be made public and will be handed over to the court in a sealed envelope. The HC has also allowed the nine “disqualified” Congress rebels to cast their votes but those would be recorded separately and kept in a sealed envelope. Votes of the rest of 61 MLAs of the 70-member Assembly would be held and counted separately.
This means that even if Rawat wins the floor test, he wouldn’t automatically return to power on Thursday. Conversely, if he loses, the BJP and the Congress rebels don’t get an offer to form an alternate government. The outcome of the confidence vote would be kept with the high court for future reference so that no horse trading takes place in the pendency of appeal challenging the imposition of President’s Rule and the Speaker’s orders of disqualification of nine Congress MLAs hours after President’s Rule was imposed in the state.
But that’s the legal, constitutional part of the high court order.
The High Court did not deliberate upon Centre's contention that Rawat has lost the constitutional mandate to rule the state on 18 March as the numbers were stacked against him on Appropriation Bill was put to vote.
The result of the floor test (which no doubt would be leaked through unofficial, informal channels or by leaders of the parties concerned) is likely to have a huge bearing on the hill state’s politics and may directly impact Rawat and BJP president Amit Shah.
If Rawat succeeds in conjuring up the numbers, he will immediately play the martyr card and paint Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah as the villains of the pantomime who “threw out a popularly elected government.” The BJP’s argument that the Chief Minister lost mandate to rule on 18 March after the Speaker ruled as “passed” a defeated Appropriation Bill will not cut much ice in public perception.
Conversely, if the numbers in the floor test go against Rawat, the BJP would claim that Centre’s stand to impose President’s Rule has been vindicated and it will have options to continue with the Rule or explore possibilities of formation of an alternate government.
The strength of the Uttarakhand Assembly is 71 (including one nominated member). The Congress has 27, “disqualified” Congress rebels 9, BJP 29, Bahujan Samaj Party 2, Independent 3, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal(P) 1.
Since the outcome can’t officially be made public, claims and counterclaims, genuine or false, is bound to be made by either side. Uttarakhand elections are due in January 2017, which means that polls would be announced in the next eight-nine months leaving enough time for ‘President’s Rule’ to become the single largest electoral issue.
All eyes would be on proceedings in the Assembly on Thursday.
But for now, this ruling has left all three concerned parties more or less satisfied. The Congress is happy because high court has asked for a floor test as demanded by it. The President’s Rule was imposed a day ahead of the deadline set by Governor KK Paul for Harish Rawat to hold the trust vote. Nine disqualified rebel Congress MLAs are satisfied because the High Court has allowed them to vote. The BJP, though not delirious, is relieved because the High Court has not commented on imposition of President Rule and has allowed Congress rebels who have joined hands with them, to vote.
Late reports suggest that the Centre might challenge the High Court ruling.
This is a unique, unparallel judgement and may become among the most talked-about ruling in the long run like the one on February 1998 when Allahabad High Court ordered a composite floor test after then Governor, Romesh Bhandari, dismissed Kalyan Singh government and appointed Jagdambika Pal as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.
The high court had ruled that in the composite floor test of Uttar Pradesh state Assembly, the MLAs would list their choice as to who should be the CM, Kalyan Singh or Jagdambika Pal, or anyone else. Singh won hands down and Pal’s name was not registered in the list of UP Chief Ministers. The irony is, Jagdambika Pal is now a honoured BJP MP.