New Delhi: Those in the BJP who think that the division bench's order of the Uttarakhand High Court staying the floor test in the assembly, even as the state is under President's Rule, vindicated their stand would be better advised to pause and consider what the party had experienced 17 years ago, in March 1999.
On a dark night on 10 February 1999, 12 Dalits were gunned down by suspected Ranvir Sena activists in Narayanpur village in Jehanabad district of Bihar. In the span of less than a month, this had been the second time that the Sena had indulged in the mass killings of Dalits. The Vajpayee government had been in power at the centre for 11 months, and Rabri Devi, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav were ruling Bihar.
A day after the Narayanpur killings, the then Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan announced an important decision taken by the Central Cabinet, which was chaired by LK Advani in absence of PM Vajpayee who was touring abroad, that the Cabinet had decided to impose President's Rule in Bihar.
Then president KR Narayanan was outside Delhi. But by late evening on 12 February, President's approval was obtained and the Rabri Devi government in Bihar was dismissed and President's Rule was imposed. Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, one of BJP veterans from the RSS background, assumed command of the state.
But things didn't go as the BJP had hoped. Three weeks later on 8 March, 1999 then Home Minister Advani made a brief statement in the Lok Sabha saying, "The Union Cabinet met today morning and decided to recommend to the Rashtrapati, revocation of President's Rule in Bihar. The President is out of town today and shall return in the night. All formalities for revocation of President's Rule in the State would be completed after that."
The Next day Rabri Devi again assumed office in Bihar. Critics and rivals ridiculed the Vajpayee government and BJP for that. It had so happened that the Vajpayee government had failed to muster requisite support in Rajya Sabha, where like today, it was in minority. The Congress had thrown its weight behind the RJD and was determined to defeat the motion, which had been passed by the Lok Sabha.
Supposing that the fate of imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand remains undecided in the Uttarakhand High Court for next two months, the BJP leadership or Modi government has a tricky situation at hand.
Article 356(3) of the Indian Constitution states that, "Every Proclamation issued under this article... ceases to operate at the expiration of two months unless... it has been approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament... and if a resolution approving the Proclamation has been passed by the Council of States, but no resolution with respect to such Proclamation has been passed by the House of the People before the expiration of that period, the Proclamation Shall cease to operate...,"
The Budget session of the Parliament, which is currently in recess, will end on 13 May. This means that the ruling BJP will have to get the imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand ratified by both Houses of Parliament before 13 May. The BJP has clear majority in Lok Sabha and it will obviously be passed (as in case of Bihar in 1999) but Congress is sure to flex its muscle along with support of parties like the Left, RJD, JU(U) in Rajya Sabha.
If the government fails to get it passed from there, the President's Rule will be revoked and the Harish Rawat government will return to office and depending on prevailing political situations then, he may or may not have to take a floor test. That again would lead to suspenseful political situations.
The BJP can avoid seeking Parliament's approval for President's Rule if an alternate government is placed in office before the budget session ends, something that it was successful in doing in Arunachal Pradesh where the leader of the breakaway faction of the Congress party Kalikho Pul was sworn in as Chief Minister and was able to prove his majority on the floor of the House.
But ground situations in Uttarakhand are a bit different from Arunachal Pradesh, and the options for the BJP much more narrower: Look at the numbers in the assembly, currently under suspended animation, the total strength is 70, Congress has 27, "disqualified" Congress rebels are 9, the BJP has 28, Bahujan Samaj Party 2, Independent 3, and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal(P) 1.
Unlike Arunachal, the BJP can't back a government led by a Congress rebel for two reasons, the number of Congress rebels is thin and secondly the state is too close to assembly elections. If the BJP forms its government and nine Congress rebels support it on floor of the House then they(nine) would be liable for action under the anti-defection law. Moreover, the BJP will have very less time to perform and that too under pressure from its prospective supporters — Congress rebels, BJP,UKD and the Independents.
The Devbhumi of Uttarakhand, generally known for its scenic hillside beauty and the Char Dham Yatra, is sure to give BJP a far greater headache than it would have bargained for.