Congress responsible for Uttarakhand crisis
Uttarakhand is probably moving towards President’s rule but before that the defection drama of “Aya Rams and Gaya Rams” will be fully enacted. The Assembly may be kept under animated suspension. The crisis comes closely on the heels of the recent Arunachal Pradesh crisis where a similar drama was enacted by the BJP and the rebel Congress legislators. The Congress, which had 47 MLAs in the 60-member Arunachal Assembly, suffered a jolt when 21 of them revolted and 11 BJP MLAs backed the rebels in the bid to upstage the Nabam Tuki government.
In both the cases, the Congress sees the BJP as the villain poised to destabilise the Congress governments. Manipur may be the next as that government is also shaky. In a way, the Congress leadership has to be blamed as the Congress legislators from Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were unable to meet either the Congress President or the vice President despite repeated requests.
The Congress watchers put the blame squarely on the party high command, as it allowed dissension in the party to blow up into a full-scale rebellion. In fact even in Assam, it did not handle the revolt by Himanta Biswa Sarma who broke away and joined the BJP along with his supporters, last year.
The Congress is already losing ground as out of 29 states, it is ruling only in Kerala, Karnataka, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Uttarakhand. Of these Kerala and Assam are going to polls next month and the party may lose both. If Chief Minister Harish Rawat is not able to save his government, Uttarakhand also will be lost.
While the BJP may be trying to destabilise the Congress-ruled governments, the current Uttarakhand crisis can be traced back when the Congress imposed on the state Vijay Bahuguna who had no experience and was not even a legislator.
Bahuguna was removed after he proved to be ineffective to handle the unprecedented 2013 flash floods. Since then he had been nursing grievances and became the rallying point for dissidents. The Congress high command ignored the mounting disquiet in the party and gave a free hand to Rawat.
The BJP, which was looking for an opening, had come to his rescue.
The Uttarakhand crisis is yet another constitutional and administrative problem after Arunachal Pradesh. The budget was passed in an unconstitutional way. The Congress – which has 36 members (including nine rebels) in the House – enjoys the support of one Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, three independents, and two BSP MLAs. The BJP is claiming the support of one BSP MLA.
The Governor K.K. Paul after informing the Centre of an administrative failure has given until March 28 for Harish Rawat to prove his majority. President Pranab Mukherjee shrewdly did not allow the BJP to parade its MLAs before him when they called on him. Can Rawat prove his majority? Even if he does, will that government be stable? Alternately, can a BJP government be stable? It is an emphatic NO.
The immediate triggering of the crisis was a notice to Bahuguna and Cabinet Minister Harak Singh Rawat for not attending Assembly sittings regularly. Another was the apprehension that the Congress high command might give the Rajya Sabha ticket to another outsider in May. Only last year actor turned politician Raj Babbar was fielded from Uttarakhand.
This has naturally irked Bahuguna who was expecting to be accommodated. He was also peeved that that he had not been able to get an appointment with Rahul Gandhi for over two years. Harish Rawat, on his part, was unable to comprehend the danger. The crisis reached a climax when the BJP on Saturday with the support of the rebel congress MLAs tried to dislodge the Chief Minister Harish Rawat.
Rawat does not know how to deal with the nine rebel MLAs, as they may vote against his government if they are not disqualified under the law. The Governor has stipulated that there should be no change in the composition until the vote of confidence on March 28. Moreover, it requires, at least, two-third members of a legislature party to form a new political group, or “merge” with another political party without getting disqualified under the anti-defection law. If the rebels are disqualified, it would require the support of at least four more MLAs to reach the magic figure of 32. Meanwhile, the horse-trading continues. There are three scenarios emerging in Uttarakhand. The first is that Congress manages to expel the nine MLAs and survives with the help of independents. This is difficult. The second is that the BJP and rebels form the government. The third is the President’s Rule. While the BJP may derive immediate satisfaction by overthrowing another Congress government, the move could eventually backfire. The BJP wants to rule the state through the Governor’s rule until elections are held.
The message from the Uttarakhand crisis is the loosening grip of the Congress leadership over the party. That is why the rebels are emboldened to topple the Congress governments. The party has to ensure that the dissident’s voices are heard and the sooner the party attends to this problem, the better for the leadership. Another and more worrying signal is that the horse trading continues despite stringent laws in place. Also, politics is becoming a no holds barred game. It is time to revive political morality and stop all these unfair practices. It signifies the ineffectiveness of the anti-defection law even after three decades which does not make the legislators fear the law as they are lured by money and position to defect.
(The author is a senior commentator on political affairs. Views expressed are strictly personal.)