The Harish Rawat-led Congress government in Uttarakhand was tottering Friday night after nine party MLAs, including a minister, joined hands with the opposition BJP which met the Governor to stake claim to form the government.
The Congress has 36 MLAs in the House of 70 members — the 71st member is nominated — and enjoys the support of six MLAs of the Progressive Democratic Front, while the BJP has 28 MLAs.
Most rebel Congress MLAs, who along with the BJP raised anti-government slogans inside the House, are those who owe allegiance to former chief minister and MLA Vijay Bahuguna who made way for Rawat over two years ago.
The other eight rebel MLAs are Harak Singh Rawat, Amrita Rawat, Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion, Shaila Rani Rawat, Pradip Batra, Subodh Uniyal, Shailendra Mohan Singhal and Umesh Sharma.
While Chief Minister Rawat maintained he had majority in the House, a three-member BJP delegation comprising former chief minister and MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, BJP in-charge of Uttarakhand Shyam Jaju and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya met Governor K K Paul late at night, seeking dismissal of the Rawat government.
Accompanied by all its MLAs barring one — Ganesh Joshi was arrested earlier in the day and sent to judicial custody for allegedly attacking and causing injuries to a police horse — and nine rebel Congress MLAs, the BJP staked claim to form the government.
Vijayvargiya said he along with 35 MLAs was at Raj Bhavan to seek the Rawat government’s dismissal. “We have 35 MLAs with us here and one MLA is away. That makes our strength 36. So we have the majority,” he told The Indian Express over phone.
He said Governor Paul told them he would call for the House records Saturday, go through them and speak to both sides. “The Governor assured us he would do justice,” he said.
Asked if the MLAs who have split from the Congress would face disqualification under the anti-defection law, Vijayvargiya said, “The Governor has to first dismiss the government as it has lost its majority. The government would have fallen if there was voting on the Budget. It was the Speaker’s foul play that led to the passage of the Budget with voice vote. The Governor has to dismiss the government first as it is in minority. Disqualification issue would come up later.”
On the other hand, Chief Minister Rawat told reporters in Dehradun that he was ready to prove his majority on the floor of the House. He also described as strange that a minister who had placed the demand for grants of his own ministry in the House should walk out opposing the full Budget.
BJP leaders also indicated that the rebel Congress MLAs were being flown in a chartered flight to New Delhi to meet BJP president Amit Shah.
This is almost a repeat of what happened in Arunachal Pradesh a few months ago when the Nabam Tuki government was overthrown and Congress rebel Kalikho Pul became Chief Minister, supported by BJP in a change of government that found resonance in Parliament with Opposition parties accusing BJP of manipulating governors to take control of democratically elected state governments.
Dissent against the leadership of Rawat had been simmering for several months, with a section of the Congress MLAs questioning his style of functioning.
In a day of fast-paced developments, after Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal rejected the demand for division of votes on the Budget debate, BJP and rebel Congress MLAs sat on a dharna in the well of the House to insist on it.
However, the Speaker announced passage of the Budget by voice vote and adjourned the House until March 28 before leaving in the midst of the din.
Rudraprayag’s Congress MLA Harak Singh Rawat, who was among the nine MLAs seen in the well of the House along with BJP MLAs, claimed the Finance Bill had fallen, a clear indication of the ruling party being reduced to a minority with 35 votes against the Budget and 32 in favour. He claimed he had already resigned from the Cabinet because the Chief Minister was inaccessible.
In Delhi, Congress leaders said that by walking out of the Assembly without passing the Budget, Harak Singh Rawat had defied the three-line whip that the party had issued to get the Budget passed and hence he would be disqualified.
Sources in the Congress said that in case Rawat is disqualified, and should Governor Paul decide to ask Harish Rawat to prove his majority on the floor of the House, the government would not be in danger. “However, if the trust vote is called before the Speaker moves to disqualify, there may be problems for us,” a Congress leader said.
with PTI inputs