The political crisis in Uttarakhand escalated dramatically two days before Monday’s scheduled test of strength in the Assembly, after rebel Congress MLAs released a sting video purportedly showing Chief Minister Harish Rawat indulging in horse-trading to save his government, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a late-night meeting of the Union Cabinet to discuss the political situation in the state.
Even as the Cabinet was meeting, the Congress at an extraordinary press conference expressed apprehension that the Cabinet could recommend imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand.
And in Dehradun, the state Congress chief said Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal had decided to disqualify the nine Congress MLAs whose rebellion and joining hands with the BJP earlier this month had triggered the crisis. An official announcement of the disqualification — sources said it was expected on Sunday — will change the numbers in the Assembly, and tilt the scales in favour of the Harish Rawat government.
The Speaker himself was not available for a comment until late at night.
The meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence began at 9.30 pm and lasted for around an hour and a half, during which the Cabinet discussed reports sent by Governor K K Paul on the crisis, and the sting video that had surfaced earlier in the day, sources said.
All options including the imposition of President’s Rule under Article 356 were discussed during the meeting, the sources said. The meeting ended without a decision, but another meeting could be held on Sunday.
At the late night press conference, AICC general secretary Ambika Soni said dismissing the government in Dehradun could be the last scene in the drama enacted by the BJP and the central government.
“The indications are clear. They have run out of options. They have failed in all their ploys… They could not do anything…, so they have decided to knock on the President’s door,” Soni told reporters. “They started with Arunachal Pradesh and have reached Uttarakhand. I don’t know which state is next,” she said.
“This is the last scene. They thought the Governor would fall under pressure. They thought the Speaker would come under pressure. When nothing has happened they have now got into the last scene… They want President’s Rule because they cannot bring down a duly elected government,” Soni added.
Watch: Alleged sting operation on Harish Rawat (Click here)
(Video courtesy: ABP News)
Asked whether the Congress was worried, she said the party was not worried or nervous about the stability of the Harish Rawat goverment, but about the larger question of constitutional norms.
“They (the BJP) violate all constitutional norms, demolish democratic practices, ridicule the common voter as if his vote does not matter. We are worried about that, it is a larger question… They are choosing all the small states which do not have the resources to fight back,” she said.
“A democratic process, a constitutional process has been started by the Governor (by asking the government to prove its majority on the floor of the House)… The Speaker is fully empowered to look into the defection situation. According to a Supreme Court judgment, nobody can interfere in the Speaker’s work… Now by making a sudden sting operation, they are all asking for imposition of President’s Rule…,” she said.
However, Soni said, she was “confident the President will go into everything and find out every aspect and look at the greater impact of such actions… whether it is Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or their lackeys… What they do I am sure, I am confident, the President will pay full attention to that.”
Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, told The Sunday Express, “The plans of the NDA show their lust for power. Their desperation is there to see.”
Asked about the possibility of imposition of President’s Rule on Uttarakhand under Article 356, Patel said, “This is murder of democracy. What can be worse than this in any democracy where the elected government is challenged by unconstitutional means?”
Disqualification of the nine Congress rebels by the Speaker will mean they won’t be able to vote when the Harish Rawat government takes a floor test in the House on Monday. After the disqualification, the House will have only 62 MLAs, of which the Congress has 27, and is supported by 3 Independents, an MLA of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), and one nominated member. Two BSP MLAs too may vote for the Congress. The BJP, on the other hand, has only 27 MLAs; one of its MLAs, Bhimlal Arya, has been working for the Congress for long, and may stay away.
Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee president Kishore Upadhyay told The Sunday Express that the Speaker had decided to disqualify the nine rebel MLAs. “I welcome the decision of the Speaker. It will be a lesson in future for those MLAs who work against their responsibilities towards their party and the public,” Upadhyay said.
Earlier on Saturday, a few hours before the deadline for submitting replies on the notices issued by the Speaker ran out, rebel Congress MLA Subodh Uniyal and lawyers of the other eight MLAs, including ex-chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, met the Speaker in Vidhan Bhawan and submitted their interim replies.
Dinesh Dwivedi, lawyer for Bahuguna, said he has stated in his interim reply that action under the anti-defection law may not be taken on the basis of allegations leveled and evidence available so for. “Speaker has asked for providing more evidence by 9 am on Sunday,” Dwivedi said.