Uttarakhand: SC bars rebel MLAs, Harish Rawat set to win floor test
The two-month-long political crisis in Uttarakhand seems to be nearing its end with the Supreme Court refusing to stay the disqualification of the nine rebel Congress MLAs, and barring them from participating in the floor test on 10 May.
The ruling has turned the tide in favour of the ousted chief minister Harish Rawat, who is expected to win the vote of confidence with ease.
The apex court Monday upheld the Nainital High Court's verdict on the disqualification of the nine MLAs who had revolted against Rawat, and colluded with the BJP to topple his government. Issuing notice on the plea challenging the disqualification, the court listed the case for further hearing on 11 July.
The high court had, earlier in the day, dismissed the rebel legislators' petition challenging their disqualification by the Speaker, ruling: "By their conduct, it has been established that they have 'voluntarily given up membership of their political party' even if they have not become members of any other political party."
Referring to the joint memorandum submitted by the nine MLAs, along with the BJP legislators, to the governor on 18 March, Justice UC Dhyani said it was "an illustration of the fact that the petitioners have not only deserted the leader and deserted the government, but under the garb of dissent, they have, by their conduct, deserted the party. Otherwise, they would not have said in the joint memorandum that they voted against the Appropriation Bill, it was not passed, the government is in minority and, therefore, the Cabinet of Harish Rawat be dismissed."
Dhyani added: "There is a thin line between deserting the leader/government and deserting the party. Dissent is permissible only so long as it doesn't tread into the realm of voluntarily relinquishing the membership of the party."
The Centre had also moved an application in the Supreme Court to modify the 6 May order designating the Principal Secretary, Legislative Assembly, to oversee the floor test. It requested for change of this designation to "Principal Secretary (Legislative Assembly & Parliamentary Affairs)" as the designation of Principal Secretary, Legislative Assembly doesn't "exists in the state". The court accepted the demand.
With the nine rebels barred from voting, the strength of the assembly is down to 61 MLAs, and Rawat would need 31 to prove majority. He has the support of 27 Congress MLAs and six of the Progressive Democratic Front.
Although this should be enough to return Rawat to chief ministership, BJP's last ditch efforts to lure away MLAs from his camp seem to be worrying him. So much so that he has packed off the legislators to a secret location near Mussoorie until the voting. Other Congress leaders in the state appear more confident, claiming they would cross the magic mark of 31 votes and that there won't be any last minute surprises.
In a related development, the Narendra Modi government Monday got the budget for Uttarakhand passed in the Lok Sabha, despite opposition by the Congress. Describing the passage of the budget as "murder of democracy", Congress MPs staged a walk out after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moved the motion for a discussion on the Uttarakhand Appropriation Bill. Jaitley claimed the the bill's passage would have no bearing on the impending vote of confidence. "This Appropriation Bill seeks funds for only four months of the current fiscal," he said.
The budget must now be passed by the Rajya Sabha, which is unlikely given that the Upper House is controlled by the Congress.
But all eyes are now on what transpires in Dehradun Tuesday and whether there are more twists left in the drama that has arrested the attention of the nation for a while now. Rawat would certainly hope not.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone