ON Thursday Harish Rawat held the first meeting of his cabinet after being reinstated as Uttarakhand Chief Minister following the revocation of President’s rule in the wake of his 33-28 victory in the trust vote. For 46 days the state remained under President’s rule when it was imposed by the Centre on the ground that the Congress government led by Rawat had lost majority in the state Assembly owing to desertion of the Congress Legislature Party by nine members. Is that the end of Harish Rawat’s troubles? No; the nine rebel Congress MLAs are just waiting to strike him. It was on the expectation of their support to the BJP that the Modi government had imposed President’s rule. But the Supreme Court bench of Justices Dipak Misra and S K Singh did not allow them to participate in the vote as they were hearing a petition against their disqualification which they had not given orders on. Had they been allowed to vote Rawat would have lost the trust vote 33-37.
The danger for Rawat is not yet over. The Supreme Court is separately hearing the petitions of the nine Congress MLAs who have challenged their disqualification by the Speaker for ‘horse-trading’. They have denied any horse-trading and challenged their disqualification by the Speaker. Even while refusing to grant stay on their disqualification and allowing Rawat a trust vote, the court indicated that in case it decides the petitions in favour of the disqualified MLAs, a second floor test may be a possibility. “If this man (Rawat) becomes Chief Minister now and supposing we set aside the disqualification of the MLAs in the future, there will have to be another floor test,” Justice Misra observed. The Congress party has to admit that everything is not right in the state legislature party. There could be dispute whether the nine MLAs who rebelled had genuine issues against the state party leadership or were just expecting to get into positions of power by joining hands with the BJP. Whatever the case might be, the Congress party’s state and central leaders can hardly escape blame for not heeding the grievances of those nine MLAs. Running a political party or government is after all an art of managing a criss-cross of personal ambitions without losing out on efficiency and performance. There, the state and central leaders of the Congress party failed, giving space to the BJP to butt its head in.
However, the BJP state and central leaders need to learn a lesson from the Uttarakhand case. They need not be reminded that a similar situation emerged in Arunachal Pradesh in which the BJP tried to form a government with the support of dissident Congress MLAs. When the Speaker did not agree to call for a floor test, they held a meeting elsewhere announcing the fall of the Congress government. However, the court, as in Uttarkhand, frustrated the game in Arunachal Pradesh. The BJP government at the Centre is following in the footsteps of the Congress and misusing Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss state ministries under Congress control. If the goal of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” of Narendra Modi’s dreams is to be achieved riding the Article 356 horse, the BJP should better be warned by the verdicts of the Uttarkhand High Court (which struck down the imposition of President‘s rule in the state as the President’s order did not fulfill the basic requirements laid down by the Supreme Court) and the Supreme Court (which refused a stay on the disqualification of the nine dissident Congress MLAs and allowed Harish Rawat to take a floor test).
The central government made a graceful exit on Wednesday even before the Justices Misra and Singh opened the sealed cover containing the results of the floor test. “You can wait at the gate. The moment it is revoked, go in and take charge,” Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi told Rawat’s lawyers in an aside during the court hearing. Rohatgi told the Supreme Court at the very beginning of the hearing: “It is clear from the news that an orderly voting took place in the Assembly on May 10. It is clear that Respondent 1 (Rawat) won a majority. We will revoke the order of proclamation of President’s rule today itself and this assurance is from the highest quarters.” The bench, granting the Centre liberty to revoke President’s rule, recorded in its order that the “Centre is wedded to democracy.” Let us hope the BJP continues to play fair and does not impose President’s rule indiscriminately as it will erode people’s trust in the democratic system. It should first allow a floor test for a government facing rebellion to prove its majority. Secondly, it should not impose President’s rule on extraneous and irrelevant grounds.