The BJP member from the recently dissolved J&K Assembly who has challenged Governor Satyapal Malik’s decision in the Supreme Court said “all the BJP legislators want the Assembly to be revived” but “haven’t come out in the open”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Gagan Bhagat, who represented Ranbir Singh Pura (RS Pura), a reserved constituency in Jammu, said: “The Governor’s decision is unconstitutional… I am hopeful that the court will overturn it… The way he acted doesn’t suit his stature. He may be from our party, but he has to act neutral.”
Asked if he was planning to leave the BJP, since his decision to approach the SC is against the party’s stand, he said: “I have told the party that it is my fundamental right… I will ask questions. The party hasn’t responded to me yet, because all the legislators are on the same page, all of them want the House to be revived.”
“The reason you (Malik) said you are keeping the House in suspended animation was that you would allow the formation of a political government the moment there is a sign that any new alliance has the numbers. Not one but two parties came forward to stake claim, and you dissolved the Assembly immediately, within 15 minutes. It was your duty, as per the Constitution, to call an all-party conference the next day and check who wants to form the government. You needed to organise a floor test. If no one would have been able to pass the floor test, only then could you dissolve the Assembly,’’ he said.
“Such unconstitutional steps undermine the democratic process and institutions,” said Bhagat. “We have suffered because of this. In fact, we continue to suffer the ramifications of such unconstitutional and undemocratic decisions taken earlier. We should have learnt our lessons from the past but we are repeating the same mistakes,’’ he said.
Questioning Malik’s description of the PDP, NC and Congress coming together as an “unholy alliance”, he said: “It is a bizarre argument. When we (BJP) joined an alliance with PDP, it was a holy alliance. In every way, we were poles apart. We had nothing in common. We are in direct confrontation ideologically. We don’t have an iota of similarity in the complexion of our support base. Our world view is different. We have completely opposed stands on every fundamental issue related to J&K. But we came together and happily formed a government… How is the alliance between PDP, NC and Congress different? They have more commonalities than we had with PDP.” Bhagat said if Malik had allowed the two new alliances that staked claim “to go for a floor test, it would have added respect and credibility to the democratic process in J&K”.
Questioning the argument that the NC, PDP and Congress alliance was detrimental to Jammu’s interests, he said: “Are NC, PDP and Congress people stupid that their government wouldn’t have representation from Jammu? How is it possible for them to provide representation of Kashmir Valley alone? How was it an alliance of Kashmir-based groups only?’’
Criticising the “divisive politics”, he said: “In Jammu, we are taught that Kashmir is your enemy. Our political workers are groomed like that and unnecessarily a mindset is created against Kashmir. I am sure this happens in Kashmir too… I asked political workers here why they oppose 35 A. They said because Kashmir-based leaders are supporting it. I tried to explain that this provision wasn’t introduced by any Kashmir-based leader… It was introduced by Maharaja Hari Singh, primarily because he wanted to safeguard the interests of people of Jammu… The first impact of its repeal would be on us.”
“Instability is being deliberately perpetuated… I am from the Scheduled Caste community and, unfortunately, my place in BJP has been reduced to my caste. I am not judged by my capability. A circle has been drawn around me and I am told I have to function within the four walls of my Scheduled Caste identity. I am not Brahmin or Mahajan, so I wasn’t considered for any party post like state president etc. This also has disgruntled me,” he said.
Bhagat said he has also questioned the “unnecessary fiddling” with the constitutional provisions. “From 35 A to everything else, they have started to fiddle. It is politically detrimental to our interests in Jammu. But no one in the state BJP unit has the courage to tell the central leadership the truth on the ground, no one tells them that our interests are harmed by such political strategy,’’ he said. “There is a plan to rotate the reserved constituencies too, all the seven reserved constituencies”.
When contacted, senior BJP leader and former Deputy CM Kavinder Gupta said Bhagat’s petition in the Supreme Court was “his individual decision”. “As a party, the BJP is not opposed to the Governor’s decision. Whatever the Governor has done is done, and we need to move forward,’’ he said, adding that all the BJP’s members of the dissolved Assembly were with the party.
State BJP president Ravinder Raina said that “since no one is an MLA, Bhagat’s decision to approach the Supreme Court is his individual decision”. He said no other party leader was opposed to the dissolution.