A new and bitter political battle has begun between the BJP and the Congress — this time in Uttarakhand.
When the state was brought under President's Rule on Sunday, Chief Minister Harish Rawat lashed out at the Narendra Modi government, calling the imposition a "murder of democracy" and a "black" day.
President Pranab Mukherjee had signed the proclamation under Article 356 of the Constitution dismissing the Congress government headed by Rawat and placing the Assembly under suspended animation on the recommendation of the Union Cabinet.
The Centre was of the view that continuance of the Rawat government was "immoral and unconstitutional" after 18 March when the Speaker declared the Appropriation Bill "passed" in controversial circumstances.
Here is how the political crisis in Uttarakhand unfolded:
The controversial passage of the state annual budget
On 18 March, nine Congress rebels had joined the BJP in the state Assembly in demanding a division of votes amid chaos on the state's annual budget that could have led to its fall.
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 28, Bahujan Samaj Party has two, Independents have three, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (P) has one, while one member of the Assembly is nominated.
Rawat government's failure to pass the budget would have meant that the government has lost the confidence of the assembly or a majority therein, leading to the fall of the government.
Among the rebel Congress MLAs in Uttarakhand were former chief minister Vijay Bhahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat, Amrita Rawat, Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion, Shaila Rani Rawat, Pradip Batra and Subodh Uniyal.
State Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal, however, had rejected the demand for the division of votes, triggering chaos in the Assembly with both Opposition BJP and rebel Congress MLAs sitting on a dharna in the Well of the House to insist on this procedure, terming it their democratic right.
The Speaker had then 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.
Ironically, BJP leader Umesh Agarwal had called the passage of the budget 'murder of democracy', a phrase which would later be used by CM Rawat after the state came under President's Rule.
BJP leaders meet Uttarakhand Governor, stake claim to form government
On the same night, a three-member BJP delegation comprising former chief minister and MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, BJP in-charge of Uttarakhand Shyam Jaju and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya had met Governor KK Paul and had said that the Harish Rawat government was in a minority and sought its dismissal.
In response, Rawat had said claimed that he still enjoys a majority in the Uttarakhand Assembly and was ready to prove it on the floor of the House.
"Those who are saying they have support of 35 MLAs are misrepresenting facts. I am confident that I still have a majority in the Assembly and can prove it on the floor of the House," he had said.
Speaker issues notice to rebel Congress leaders
Two days after the chaos in the state Assembly, the Speaker had issued notices to the nine rebel Congress lawmakers who had met the governor, seeking dismissal of Rawat.
Notices had been issued to the nine rebel Congress MLAs following a request from party chief whip and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Indira Hridayesh seeking action against them for violating the party whip in the state Assembly.
The notices had been pasted on the walls of the houses of the MLAs concerned which asks them to submit their replies to the Speaker by 26 March evening.
The Speaker had asked the lawmakers why their Assembly membership could not be terminated. Kunjwal had further said that "anti-defection law is in place and whoever is found guilty of violating it will have to be acted against."
Vijay Bahuguna's son expelled from party for 6 years
On 21 March, Congress had expelled former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna's son Saket Bahuguna and party joint secretary Anil Gupta for six years for "anti-party" activities.
State Congress chief Kishore Upadhyay had said that the disciplinary committee recommended to the Pradesh Congress Committee that Saket and Gupta be expelled on the basis of their statements published in newspapers and broadcast by news channels.
Political war of words breaks out
On the same day as Saket's expulsion, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya and his party colleagues had marched from Vijay Chowk to Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet President Pranab Mukherjee, requesting the President to direct the Uttarakhand Governor to dismiss the Rawat government and give the BJP time to prove their majority.
As expected, an intense war of words began between Congress and BJP leaders. Rawat had accused the BJP of spreading lies and trying to take political advantage of an internal rebellion in the Congress party. "BJP is trying to topple the democratically elected government here as they have been doing it in other states. An all-powerful BJP government at the Centre is clearly misusing its position to murder democracy in Uttarakhand," Rawat had said.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had also targeted the government in a series of tweets:
Toppling elected Govts by indulging in horse trading & blatant misuse of money & muscle, seems to be BJP's new model, after failure in Bihar
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) March 20, 2016
This attack on our democracy & Constitution, first in Arunachal & now Uttarakhand, is the true face of Modiji's BJP
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) March 20, 2016
Congress Party will fight demagoguery with democracy
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) March 20, 2016
On the other hand, BJP had accused Speaker Kunjwal of working as Chief Minister Harish Rawat's "agent" and had asked him resign if he had even an iota of self respect left in him.
"By disallowing a division of votes on the finance bill in the House, the Speaker deprived the members' right to vote as he knew the majority was against it and it was bound to fall," BJP spokesman Munna Singh Chauhan had said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that Uttarakhand was a "textbook example of breakdown of governance."
Congress accuses Ramdev of plotting against the Rawat government
The political crisis in Uttarakhand took a new turn with the Congress dragging Ramdev into the picture, accusing him of hatching a plot with BJP leadership to topple the state government.
Uttarakhand Congress President Kishore Upadhyay had alleged on Wednesday that the yoga guru and BJP chief Amit Shah were conspiring to dislodge the state government and the rebellion against Harish Rawat by the party’s MLAs was a result of this.
However, Ramdev had denied this allegation. "Not even in my dream did I have a talk with any Congress MLA or party worker. Whatever we do, we do it openly," he had said.
BJP releases 'sting video' against Rawat
The BJP had also released a sting video, showing the CM bargaining with rebel party MLAs and offering them money to win over their support during the floor test in the Assembly on 28 March. Rawat had called the video 'fake.'
Congress had alleged that the "dirty tricks department" of BJP president Amit Shah is at work, while the saffron outfit had demanded "immediate dismissal" of the Rawat government.
President's Rule and the relevance of its timing
As Ajay Kumar writes, how do you establish that there has been a break down in constitutional machinery in a state before the no-confidence motion even reaches the floor of the House? One does not dispute the fact that there may have been certain procedural issues arising from the passing of the Appropriations Bill in the State, but it has been constitutional convention for many years that the decision of the Speaker with regards to a procedural decision is often taken as final. Even so, if the Speaker's decision went against established constitutional principles, there are mechanisms in place to remove the speaker.
The power of the Central government under Article 356 is a most extreme power as it enables it to dismiss a Sate Government and place the Assembly in suspended animation or dismiss the enter Assembly if need be and call for fresh elections.
There was no such situation brewing in Uttarakhand. There are constitutional mechanisms in place to remedy this situation, and one of them is a no-confidence motion. One that was scheduled for Monday, but has now been rendered moot by an over-zealous central government. If the Chief Minster lost the vote on Monday, the Governor has a myriad of options at his disposal, including asking the Congress to return a new Legislative Party leader who would have the confidence of the House, or dissolve the House and call for fresh elections.
It is very interesting to note that if the nine congress MLAs vote against the Government, they could face disqualification under the Anti-Defecation Law. There are reports now that the Speaker has disqualified these nine MLAs under that law post the imposition of President's Rule.
What this proclamation does, however, is that it cuts short extensive constitutional machinery, designed specifically to deal with situations such as this and perhaps, at most, delay an inevitable early election. The last election was held in the year 2012, the term of this assembly was scheduled to expire in 2017 which elections scheduled for January of that year. It is curious to note that the BJP took 5 out of 5 seats in the 2014 General Elections from Uttarakhand. Maybe poll preparations have more to do with the proclamation than a legitimate breakdown in constitutional machinery. But so much for Federalism I guess.
Seldom have state governments been dismissed because of procedural decisions by a Speaker concerning a bill being brought to the floor for a vote, even seldom still before a scheduled No-Confidence vote.
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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2016 13:53:48 IST