With Supreme Court ordering a floor test in Uttarakhand Assembly on 10 May to decide the majority of the Harish Rawat-led government, the BJP-led central government might soon have to face embarrassment as it had promulgated President’s rule in the state. However, it would not have come entirely unanticipated for the party as considering the nine rebel Congress legislators not being allowed to vote and the numbers stacked, in all likelihood Rawat should sail through the test.
Only over week ago, the apex court had put serious questions to the Centre over the imposition of President’s rule in the state. The most important ones being whether members switching loyalties – strictly a development within the assembly – merited imposition of central rule in Uttarakhand and whether it did not violate the basic principles of the centre-state relations as enunciated by the Bommai judgement of 1994. Friday’s decision can seen be as a logical extension of that.
The state lapsed into a constitutional crisis when the rebel Congress legislators on 18 March not only demanded a division of votes on the money bill but also met the Governor along with BJP leaders demanding the dismissal of the government. But before a floor test – initially scheduled for 28 March – could be conducted, the Centre promulgated President’s rule in the state citing a sting video where Rawat was purportedly shown bribing the party dissidents. This triggered several ethical and constitutional questions.
The bigger question, however, is political. The decision to dismiss the state government was seen as a deliberate move to destabilise Congress governments in the country. Coming after the development in Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress saw strong hints of vendetta politics in the move. It cried itself hoarse that the BJP had claimed to ensure a Congress-mukt Bharat and is going about it by dismantling Congress governments. The BJP, on its part, did not seem to have a strong justification for the imposition of President’s rule. The High Court also found its move not in sync with the constitutional arrangement guiding the centre-state equations.
If Harish Rawat pulls off a victory, it would leave the BJP with egg on the face. Even if he does not, it appears that he won’t be losing much politically. According to political observers in Uttarakhand, the action is generally seen as mindless and it has made the BJP unpopular. With assembly elections due early next year, Rawat would love to play the victim card to the hilt. The nine Congress rebels now stand nowhere. They don’t bring much electoral value to the BJP and thus are not likely to be welcomed to its fold. The chances of them going back to the Congress are almost impossible. This only strengthens Rawat’s hand.
The BJP will now need to re-think its strategy. It was a lose-lose bargain from the beginning. It made matters worse by sticking to its position on the government. Uttarakhand had to face the devastating forest fire without a government in place. Popular opinion is likely to hold it responsible for the sorry state of affairs. With not many months to go for the elections it has the enormous task of rebuilding its image.
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