Uttarakhand: Centre may agree to a floor test. Will 9 Cong rebels vote?
Hearing the matter on the imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to the Centre's plea of allowing it two more days to determine the feasibility of a floor test in the state assembly. Accepting the suggestion made by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, the division bench said that if government does decide to hold a floor test, it would subserve the cause of democracy.
The two judge Supreme Court bench posted the next hearing for Friday after Rohatgi assured the court that the "Union of India is seriously considering the suggestion given by this court to have a floor test in Assembly to put an end to the controversy that has emerged in this case". Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal, representing ousted chief minister Harish Rawat, told the court that they have no objection if the government agrees to the suggestion.
The government is likely to give approval for a floor test which could possibly end the two-month long deadlock that has put Uttarakhand in a state of disarray. However, there is no clarity on the fate of 9 Congress rebel MLAs, whose petition against their disqualification is still being heard by the Uttarakhand High Court. Confusion still prevails on whether they would be allowed to vote or not. It is this decision that holds the key to who forms the next government in the hilly state.
The disqualified MLAs
Speaking on the disqualification of the rebels, Rohatgi said that the government will put the single bench order of allowing the rebels to vote before the apex court and suggest that their votes be kept aside till the court announces its decision. The High Court in its earlier order had said that the votes of 9 rebel legislators would be kept in a separate envelope and not counted till a verdict is announced. Six of the nine rebels had moved the High Court on 30 March challenging the speaker's decision of disqualifying them under the anti-defection law.
On 18 March, the Congress rebels said that they had voted against the state Budget which had been passed by the speaker by a voice vote and even met the Governor staking claim to form the government. The speaker then disqualified these rebels, who moved the High Court against the speaker's decision. The case is still being heard at the High Court and the next hearing is on 9 May which should seal the fate of these 9 MLAs.
In case the High Court upholds the speaker's decision of disqualification, the rebels are likely to challenge the order in the Supreme Court which is bound to delay the outcome of this political drama that has plunged the state in a political turmoil. On 27 March, the Centre dismissed the Rawat government and invoked Article 356 just a day before it was to prove its majority in the state assembly. The court's order remains crucial in determining who forms the next government in the state.
If the court does uphold disqualification, the composition of the Assembly would shrink to 62 allowing Harish Rawat to retain his chief ministership. The support of the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) - which includes three independents, one UKD and two BSP MLAs - will help the Congress cross the magic figure of 31. With 29 MLAs, a nominated member and a rebel BJP MLA, the Congress would cross the finish line with support of 35 legislators.
However, if the court does allow the rebels to vote, BJP will have a numerical advantage. With 27 legislators and support of 9 Congress rebels, the party will manage to reach the majority mark of 36.
Amidst all this, reports from Dehradun suggest that BJP is desperately trying to woo MLAs, including the alliance partners of the Congress, and claims to be in touch with them to reach some sort of an understanding. Two Congress MLAs, Rajendra Bhandari and Jeet Ram, recently revealed that they were offered Rs 50 crore, tickets for family members in next election and a Rajya Sabha seat if they decide to switch sides.
BJP leader Satpal Maharaj has reportedly been given the responsibility to woo those who might be willing to support the BJP and these two are considered close to the spiritual guru who was till recently with the Congress.
Meanwhile, the Congress is confident that none of its legislators will get enticed by these offers. "They know that BJP would never accept them as their own. As it happened with these rebels, who are now planning to launch their own party, the move to switch to BJP would mean a political suicide. The political careers of these rebels are almost over and for the rest of their lives they will regret the day when they switched their allegiance to BJP," said a senior Congress leader from the state.
BJP is desperately hoping that the court revokes the speaker's decision which could come as a face saver for the party that has come under severe criticism from all quarters for subverting democracy and attempting to topple non-BJP governments in different states. Even the Nainital High Court in its order quashing the President's Rule had lashed out at the central government for going against the laws laid down by the Supreme Court.
Edited by Aditya Menon