The BJP turned to the Supreme Court on Monday for a floor test in Madhya Pradesh after Governor Lalji Tandon’s directive on this was ignored by Speaker N P Prajapati, who adjourned the Assembly till March 26 citing the coronavirus scare.
The BJP also paraded 106 of its MLAs before Tandon, barring Maihar legislator Narayan Tripathi, who was seen with the Congress.
In a late-night letter to Kamal Nath Saturday, Tandon had said that prima facie he was convinced that the Congress government was in a minority and that a floor test should be held Monday, the first day of the budget session, and in no circumstance should it be cancelled, suspended or postponed.
After the Speaker adjourned the session Monday, the Governor issued another directive for a floor test on Tuesday, saying, “or else it will be considered that you actually don’t have a majority in the House”. On Monday night, Kamal Nath called on Tandon and, claiming his government enjoys majority, ruled out a floor test. “Those who claim that we don’t have a majority should move a no-confidence motion against my government,” he told reporters.
A senior BJP leader said they were confident of the Supreme Court ruling in their favour, and accepting the resignations of 22 Congress MLAs holed up in Bengaluru, reducing the effective strength of the House to 206. The BJP has 109 MLAs. The plea was filed in the Supreme Court by former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and nine other BJP MLAs, within an hour of the Assembly being adjourned. They sought a floor test within 12 hours.
On Monday, as the Assembly began, Tandon read out barely a few lines of his speech and left, asking legislators to follow constitutional traditions, maintain “dignity of democracy” and act peacefully.
The House erupted immediately after, with BJP MLAs seeking a floor test. In the commotion, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Govind Singh moved a motion demanding adjournment of the session over coronavirus threat. Prajapati, who had indicated on Sunday that a floor test was not likely, agreed, saying, “The WHO has expressed concern over coronavirus, the Central government has issued an advisory and many state governments, including Madhya Pradesh, have taken steps to tackle the spread of the virus. Sessions of Rajasthan, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Odissa and Maharashtra Assemblies have been adjourned. PM Modi in his video conference with SAARC countries has declared it an epidemic… Given the Central advisory and wide public interest, the Assembly is adjourned till March 26.”
Earlier, before the Assembly proceedings began, Kamal Nath wrote to the Governor, accusing him of exceeding his brief and saying he had prima facie assumed that his government was in a minority based on information collected from BJP leaders.
The Speaker, Kamal Nath and most Congress legislators came to the House wearing masks, as BJP legislators said the Congress government was not even in a position to handle the Covid-19 threat because it was in a minority.
After the Session was adjourned, Congress MLAs raised slogans outside, demanding that the 22 rebel MLAs of the party be “freed” from Bengaluru and allowed to come to Bhopal.
Chouhan and Leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargava led the BJP MLAs who met the Governor, and submitted a letter signed by all of them. When Tandon asked if they had come voluntarily, the MLAs raised their hands to affirm this. Accusing the Congress of using excuses to avoid a floor test, the BJP leaders urged the Governor to “protect democracy”.
The Congress asked how the BJP could prove its numbers by parading 106 MLAs, arguing that the strength of the House remained 222 (in the 230-member House, two vacancies have been caused by deaths, while the resignation of six Congress MLAs has been accepted by the Speaker). The Speaker has said he would take a call on the resignations of 16 other Congress rebel MLAs when they appear in person before him.
Kamal Nath, who did not speak in the House, has been saying he has no problems with a floor test but that it was the Speaker’s prerogative to call one. Addressing Congress MLAs at his residence later Monday, he accused the BJP of desperation. “It talks a lot about floor test but is silent on 16 kidnapped legislators,” he said, adding that he had faith in the judiciary.
The BJP is hoping that its case in the Supreme Court will see a repeat of Karnataka, where resignations of 10 Congress and three JD(S) MLAs had not been immediately accepted by then Speaker K R Ramesh. The rebel MLAs had moved the Supreme Court, which asked the Speaker to consider the resignations but did not say these must be accepted. The court also said the MLAs could not be compelled to attend the trust vote. Consequently, the JD(S)-Congress government had fallen and the BJP returned to power.
BJP leaders held extensive discussions before deciding the course of action. Sources said Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Narendra Singh Tomar, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who joined the BJP last week, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, BJP president J P Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah were a part of the talks.
A senior minister told The Indian Express that the Supreme Court was clear in the Karnataka case on resignations of MLAs. A senior leader said, “The MLAs have made it clear that they won’t work with the Congress or the Chief Minister.”
The minister pointed out that even if the MLAs who have resigned were disqualified, the situation was still in the party’s favour. The BJP is confident that the new numbers also leave it in a good position to win the two Rajya Sabha seats from the state up for election.
Party leaders said Chouhan would be the natural choice to head a BJP government. “With re-election (of the MLAs who have resigned) crucial for the stability of the government, we have to rely on a bankable face,” a senior leader said.
BJP vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe tweeted: “… in a similar situation in Maharashtra and Karnataka… BJP Chief Ministers had resigned.”
Incidentally, the BJP has faced setbacks too in similar petitions to the Supreme Court. In July 2016, the Supreme Court had restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh nullifying Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s move to impose presidential rule; in May 2016, it had lifted presidential rule and ordered a floor test, that was won by the Congress; and in November 2019, it had directed the BJP to prove its majority within 24 hours in Maharashtra, leading to a Sena-NCP-Congress government.
Even in Karnataka, in May 2018, it had sought an immediate floor test after the BJP was invited to form the government, paving the way for a JD(S)-Congress government — though it eventually did not last long.
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