There seems to be no end to the political drama in Uttarakhand. As per latest reports, the Uttarakhand High Court has stayed an order allowing the Harish Rawat-led Congress government to hold a floor test in the state Assembly on Thursday. The court has scheduled the next hearing on the matter for April 6. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre had challenged the interim order of the high court that permitted the Congress-ruled Uttarakhand government to take a floor test. The interim order had also allowed the nine rebel Congress legislators, who were suspended, to participate in the process. The Centre's plea sought to clarify whether the floor test can be held after President’s Rule was imposed in the state, according to a Press Trust of India report. Filing the petition on behalf of the Centre, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi questioned “the need to pass this judgement”, since voting was suspended in the Assembly. “The Assembly building is empty; there is no government; there is no MLA once Section 356 (President's Rule) is in place,” he said. Suffice to say, the battle for political supremacy in the state will continue to play out in the courts.
The latest ruling, however, has not resolved the confusion that has engulfed the State. Legislators and other political leaders are still unsure of whether President’s rule has been lifted. The BJP’s annoyance seems to stem from the fact that the court could even question President’s Rule in the first place. But in the landmark SR Bommai versus Union of India judgment, the apex court said that the proclamation under Article 356(1) is not immune from judicial review. The Supreme Court or the relevant High Court can strike down the proclamation if it's found to be mala fide or based on wholly irrelevant or extraneous grounds. If the court strikes down the proclamation, it has the power to restore the dismissed government. The political crisis in the state arose from the controversial circumstances in which the Appropriation Bill was declared passed in the Assembly by the Speaker earlier this month. The Congress rebels and the BJP alleged that the Bill was defeated but the Speaker did not test it with a proper division of votes. On the floor of the House, legislators from the BJP and their fellow rebels from the Congress had insisted on a division of votes, but the Speaker declared it passed by a voice vote when actually only 32 of the 67 present members supported it. Even if a floor test was to be conducted in the near future, as things are, the Congress would stand to lose. Only if the party is successful in getting the courts to prevent the suspended MLAs from voting, then it might end up retaining Executive power.
Fortunately, in the midst of the all this politicking, Uttarakhand does not have any means of expenditure beyond April 1, since there is no Appropriation Bill which has received the assent of the Governor. To the uninitiated, an appropriation bill is a legislative motion that authorises the government to spend public money. 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. Therefore, while the BJP may derive immediate satisfaction by supplanting yet another Congress government, the move could eventually backfire. For the Congress, the entire series of events in Uttarakhand must necessitate serious introspection and tough questions of the party’s top-rung leadership. There is little doubt that the party failed to contain the dissidence within its rank. 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 happened in Arunachal Pradesh, the high command 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.