For the past few weeks, Uttarakhand has been in a state of crisis. The raging forest fires in the countryside may have subsided for the time being. But for over one month, the state has been without a functional government after the Centre imposed President’s rule. Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the ousted Congress-led government will get a chance to prove its majority in the Uttarakhand Assembly through a floor test on May 10. It also ruled that nine rebel legislators of the Congress will not be allowed to vote in Tuesday’s floor test after they were disqualified by the Speaker of the Assembly.
The decision to disqualify the rebels was upheld by the Uttarakhand High Court on Monday, as it dismissed the petition filed by the nine Congress dissidents. The state has been facing a political crisis since the nine Congress rebels opposed former Chief Minister Harish Rawat, soon after which President’s Rule was imposed in the state. The Centre had decided to impose President’s Rule in the state a day before the scheduled floor test in the Assembly on March 28. As per reports, the Centre’s move came after the release of a video that showed Rawat reportedly offering bribes to win the votes of the rebel Congress leaders in a floor test. If the disqualification is upheld by the apex court, which has agreed to hear their emergency petition on Monday, it is likely that Rawat will have the numbers to prove a majority and once again be anointed, Chief Minister. Without the nine rebels, the Harish Rawat government will have to prove the support of only 31 legislators as the strength of the 70-member house will come down to 61. If they are allowed to vote, the BJP might be able to snatch the state away from the Congress. But days before the floor test, another sting video has surfaced, in which a Congress legislator is reportedly heard saying that he convinced Rawat to pay Rs 25 lakh each to 12 Congress MLAs so that they vote in his favour in the floor test.
Irrespective of the results of Tuesday’s floor test, neither side will be able to wash away the taint of political corruption and impropriety. Whether there is any truth to the allegations of horse trading in the state Assembly, it is evident that Uttarakhand has become synonymous with everything that is wrong with Indian politics today. Throughout this period of crisis, both sides have been convincing the rebel Congress MLAs to vote way or another, with little regard to the needs of their constituents and political ideology. The Congress is guilty of neglecting its own legislators in the state. Had the party contained the dissidence within its rank, there would be no political crisis. The political turmoil in its Uttarakhand unit had been fomenting for quite some time. But the Congress high command decided to ignore the issue only till the crisis took hold. Going by what had happened in Arunachal Pradesh, it should have preempted the “discontent” among various factions in its state unit. It reflects rather poorly on the Congress leadership that it made no real effort to address the unhappy factions in its Uttarakhand unit. The BJP’s greed for political power saw it rush to declare President’s Rule without following appropriate processes. Considering the nature of the crisis, one could reasonably argue for the imposition of Article 356. But the court’s decision to go ahead with the floor test on May 10 has cast serious aspersions on the Centre’s motives. Meanwhile, if the BJP does succeed in forming the next government, there is no guarantee that the rebel Congress legislators won’t wreak havoc once again. The BJP’s decision to enlist Congress leaders Harak Singh Rawat and Vijay Bahuguna, both of whom lack credibility, seems odd and rather desperate considering that assembly elections are only a year away. Political commentators have argued that the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule could backfire on the BJP’s bid to win back the state.
Meanwhile, the state is still in the process of rebuilding after the devastating floods of 2013. It is also reeling from two consecutive years of drought and a massive forest fire. Whatever be the outcome of Tuesday’s floor test, the people of Uttarakhand don’t have much to look forward to. At ground zero there is a lot of scepticism against the political class. Small states were administratively carved out for better delivery of services and speedier progress. Instead, what the people of Uttarakhand got was a new set of leaders with the same colonial mindset. The people of Uttarakhand are angry because they feel that the political class has betrayed their trust. They see both the national parties as deeply corrupt entities and have lost their faith in a lot of leaders. Experts on the ground contend that the current impasse in the state is due to their greed for political power. Since the imposition of President’s rule, the results on the ground are there to see.