In a new turn to the political situation in Uttarakhand where President’s rule was imposed Sunday, the Uttarakhand High Court Tuesday ordered a floor test in the assembly on March 31.
The Harish Rawat-led Congress government was dislodged and the 70-member House — the 71st is a nominated member — placed in suspended animation after nine Congress rebel MLAs joined hands with 28 MLAs of the opposition BJP, plunging the state into crisis.
On Monday, Rawat paraded 34 MLAs before Governor K K Paul to claim he still had the numbers to lead a stable government. Lawyer and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Rawat in the High Court, told reporters that all MLAs, including the nine Congress rebels, can participate in the trial of strength but the votes of the disqualified legislators will be kept separate.
They will be taken into account subject to the final outcome of the writ petition filed by Rawat challenging imposition of President’s rule, he said.
In Dehradun, there was lack of clarity on whether the High Court direction for a floor test meant that President’s rule had been stayed and the Rawat government restored.
The Congress indicated it will seek legal opinion on the issue of voting by the nine disqualified MLAs.
Welcoming the High Court decision, Rawat said it was a “tremendous setback” for the Centre which had “denied” him an opportunity to prove his majority on the floor of the House.
“The Congress and our government have full respect for the judiciary. We still do not have the full judgment of the High Court but the part of the order available shows that the court holds the Centre’s decision wrong,” he told reporters.
“Our fight is not against any person but the powers which are out to demolish constitutional institutions. Such powers have received a tremendous setback.” Rawat said since the nine rebel MLAs were disqualified, their votes will have no significance.
But Congress rebel MLA Umesh Sharma said he will take part in the voting on March 31. He said the Congress whip will not be applicable to him because the Speaker had disqualified him after imposition of President’s rule.
Uttarakhand BJP vice-president Kedar Joshi said he was quite hopeful that the nine rebel MLAs will continue supporting the BJP, and that the Congress will not be able to prove its majority on the floor of the House.
BJP MLA and former state unit president Teerath Singh Rawat said the court should first clear the legislature membership status of the nine Congress rebels since they were disqualified after imposition of President’s rule.
In New Delhi, Congress general secretary Ambika Soni said her party is unable to understand how members who have already been disqualified by the Speaker can be allowed to take part in the floor test.
“We don’t know where will they vote, in the assembly or outside. If they vote outside the assembly, then it will set a new precedent. Such a thing has never happened before. In the assembly, they require the permission of the Speaker who has already disqualified them. Non-members cannot enter the chamber of the House of Representatives, whether it is Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha or Council… Only members can enter,” Soni said.
Stunned by the court direction for a a floor test, the BJP was exploring options, including “challenging the court decision” before a larger bench or a higher court.
BJP leaders admitted they had not anticipated such an order from the court since President’s rule has already been imposed in the state. “If the High Court can go against a Union Cabinet decision which was given assent by the President of India, we can challenge that decision,” a BJP leader said.
BJP general secretary Arun Singh said: “We will study the court order.” Other BJP leaders said the party “will not sit and watch” the political game unravelling in the state.