Harish Rawat may appear to be the hero as the protracted political drama in Uttarakhand heads for a climax in his favour, but it is Vidhan Sabha Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal who has saved the state for the Congress.
First, Kunjwal declared the state budget “passed” by “a voice vote” on March 18 when he saw that the numbers were stacked against the Rawat government due to a rebellion spearheaded by former Congress chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat. Though he was bound by the rules to go in for a head-count following a demand for a division even by a single MLA, Kunjwal ignored a plea to this effect by the opposition BJP and rebel Congress MLAs.
A defeat of a money bill in the Vidhan Sabha would have led to the ouster of the government. Rule 296(1) of the Uttarakhand Assembly Rules for the Conduct of Business and Procedure clears states that a vote can be obtained through the voice or a division but “in case a member so demands, it will be through a division”. The Speaker obviously chose to ignore this and relied upon the next part of the same provision. It empowers the Speaker to elicit the vote by asking members to raise their hands and avoid a division, if he “feels that the demand for a division has been made unnecessarily”.
Though the system has to address the key issue thrown up by this turn of events – whether or not a presiding officer of an assembly or a House of Parliament can have an absolute discretion to “pass” a money bill backed by a minority – the Uttarakhand Speaker has served the interests of his party very effectively for now.
After enabling the Rawat government to sail through the first crisis, Kunjwal set the stage for its second victory by disqualifying nine rebel Congress MLAs under Section 10 of the Constitution following a petition by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Indira Hridyesh. This happened just a day ahead of the confidence vote, scheduled by the Governor for March 28. The promulgation of President’s Rule preempted the confidence vote at the time.
However, when it finally took place today on a directive of the Supreme Court, it was the disqualification of the nine MLAs which proved to be a game-changer.
Therefore, even as Rawat celebrates his victory, the fact is that the Uttarakhand crisis actually underlines his political weaknesses — he could not take his party colleagues along. Worse still, he failed to see the rebellion building up against himself right under his nose. Kunjwal, on the other hand, comes out with flying colours.