Poetic justice? How BJP fell into its own trap in Uttarakhand
As he emerged from the assembly in Dehradun, a gleaming Harish Rawat flashed a victory sign for the TV cameras. It was a clear indication of what could be expected when the Supreme Court announces the outcome of the trust vote on Wednesday.
It's not yet official, but the Congress has gone on record saying that Rawat will soon return as Uttarakhand chief minister. Sources said he received the votes of 33 MLAs - BJP's 29 legislators voted against -- giving him a clear majority.
The trust vote is a slap in the face for the Narendra Modi regime, which appears to have handed Rawat a second term on a platter. From battling allegations of nepotism and corruption before his government was dismissed, Rawat is now playing the victim - a strategy that seems to have given him an edge over the BJP going into the assembly poll in early 2017.
Not that this couldn't have been predicted. In fact, the RSS and a section of the state BJP were against dislodging the Congress regime in such a brazen manner, convinced as they wire that it would backfire in 2017. But the party's central leadership, swayed by general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, went ahead with the imposition of President's Rule, only to end up embarrassing the Modi government.
The rather unreasonable desire to dismiss the Rawat regime got the better of even the otherwise astute Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who sought to justify the decision as necessitated by a "breakdown of constitutional machinery". It found no takers among legal luminaries, especially since President's Rule had been imposed just a day before the trust vote was due to be held.
The Nainital High Court duly quashed the imposition of President's Rule, but not before pulling up the Modi regime for acting like a "private party". In its judgment, the court said, "We are pained that the central government can behave like this. How can you think of playing with the Court?"
The sources claimed it was Jaitley who aggressively pushed for imposing President's Rule and convinced Modi and his cabinet to go through with it.
If this wasn't enough, Jaitley got the Uttarakhand budget and Appropriation Bill passed in the Lok Sabha just a day before the trust vote on 10 May. He claimed it was a "constitutional necessity", but the decision was ridiculed by several parties, including some of BJP's allies, who questioned its timing.
What's especially embarrassing for the BJP is that its entire game plan in Uttarakhand was based on a miscalculation of the rebellion within the state Congress. The party was taken in by rebel Congress leader and former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna's claim of enjoying the support of 15-odd Congress MLAs, and dispatched Vijayvargiya to Dehradun to get the party's dirty tricks department into action.
On 28 March, as the budget was readying passed by the assembly, BJP's senior leadership was made to believe that if the rebels voted, the Rawat government would fall. But it didn't go as anticipated: despite the rebels' plea to hold a division of vote beforehand, the Speaker passed the Appropriation Bill through voice vote, thus upsetting the BJP's apple cart.
Much of the blame for this debacle rests with Vijayvargiya. In fact, he could be the first victim of this crisis. He's already being blamed within the BJP for "misleading" the party into believing that it could form the government in the state.
A section of BJP's state leadership is of the opinion that the party could have watched the crisis within the Congress from the sidelines, and exploited this growing resentment against Rawat during the 2017 campaign. "If the central leadership had waited till the election, we had a chance of upstaging Rawat, but all hope is lost now," said a state BJP leader.
On the other hand, a superstitious Rawat would see the whole affair as a blessing in disguise, not least because most of his adversaries within the Congress stand disqualified and ousted. Moreover, the BJP has no credible face to challenge him in 2017.
Nationally, too, its political adventurism in Uttarakhand is set to have repercussions for the BJP. Soon after reports came of Rawat winning the floor test, BJP's allies and other parties jumped to criticise the Modi regime for dislodging state governments. Shiva Sena said in a statement that had the floor test happened earlier, all this "tamasha" would have been avoided, and the "prestige" of all sides would have remained intact. The Samajwadi Party and AAP also welcomed the result of the floor test and claimed that it was a "huge setback" for the central government.
Having made a mockery of its agenda of "cooperative federalism" by going around felling governments, the Modi regime needs to mend ways before it loses whatever credibility it has left.