The political crisis in Uttarakhand escalated on Sunday after it was brought under President’s rule. The Centre reasoned that a “breakdown of governance” had precipitated its decision to impose President’s rule. President Pranab Mukherjee signed the proclamation under Article 356 of the Constitution on Sunday dismissing the Congress government headed by Harish Rawat. Suffice to say, it is a controversial decision which comes in the wake of a political crisis triggered by a rebellion in the ruling Congress. The dismissal of the Harish Rawat government now renders Monday’s confidence vote irrelevant. The Centre’s decision also came amidst reports that State Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal had disqualified nine rebel Congress MLAs that would have enabled Rawat to sail through in the trust vote on Monday. Quite naturally, the Congress denounced the decision to impose President's rule, calling it a “murder of democracy”. 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. The opposition claimed that it had a majority of 35 MLAs, including 9 rebels, in the House that day out of 67 MLAs present on the day of voting. Union Minister Arun Jaitley reasoned that the Appropriation Bill was declared passed by the Speaker in the Assembly earlier this month even though 35 MLAs out of 67 had written to him in advance that they would be voting against it. On the floor of the House, these MLAs insisted on a division but the Speaker declared it passed by a voice vote when actually only 32 of the 67 present members supported it. “In 68 years of Indian democracy, such an incident has not happened. I don’t think there has been a greater subversion of the parliamentary system in India than this,” he told the Press Trust of India. The Supreme Court has laid down certain guidelines so as to prevent the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution. The majority enjoyed by the Council of Ministers shall be tested on the floor of the House, the court has argued. Moreover, the use of Article 356 is justified only when there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery and not administrative machinery. Considering the nature of the crisis, one could reasonably argue for or against the imposition of Article 356. But the NDA government stands accused of constitutional impropriety primarily because Governor Dr KK Paul had given Chief Minister Harish Rawat time until Monday to prove his government's majority on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Moreover, the Uttarakhand High Court had dismissed a petition filed by the rebel Congress MLAs last week, which challenged the notice issued to them by Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal. The Speaker's notice had questioned the move by rebel Congress MLAs to join BJP legislators earlier this month. If the court saw no reason to interfere in the legislative process with the Governor’s full assent for a floor test on Monday, there is no basis on which President's rule should have been imposed.
The situation in Uttarakhand is reminiscent of what happened in Arunachal Pradesh. Critics of the NDA government have argued that the steps leading up to the constitutional crisis in both Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh are reminiscent of past attempts at destabilising State governments ruled by Opposition parties. The Centre saw it fit to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand even though Governor Dr KK Paul had given Chief Minister Harish Rawat time until Monday to prove his government's majority on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. However, the Congress is not entirely blameless in the entire affair. 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 past precedence, the high command should have preempted the “discontent” among various factions in its State unit. Ever since that the party won the 2012 Assembly polls in the state, the party committed one strategic error after another. It first appointed an inexperienced Vijay Bahuguna as Chief Minister. His government miserably failed to bring succour to the State after the devastating floods of 2013. By the time Bahuguna found his feet, he was replaced by Harish Rawat ahead of the 2014 general elections. The party lost all five Lok Sabha seats due to the general discontentment with the State government’s poor handling of the floods. But Rawat took up the reins and staged a relative comeback for the party with crucial wins in the subsequent Assembly by-polls much to the chagrin of the State BJP leadership. However, Rawat’s success was not met favourably by other factions within the State unit’s ranks. It is little surprise that the current rebellion in the party is being led by none other than Vijay Bahuguna. Reports suggest that Bahuguna had been seeking an appointment with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for the past two years, but to no avail. It reflects rather poorly on the Congress leadership that it made no effort to address the unhappy factions in its Uttarakhand unit. Considering how the party lost Arunachal Pradesh under similar circumstances, the party should have acted a lot earlier. Today Bahuguna has joined hands with rebel legislator Harak Singh Rawat, who until a few years ago was a political pariah after his name had figured in a sex scandal. But it is a strange move on the BJP’s part to a support a government led by a discredited Bahuguna or a Harak Singh Rawat with elections in the state only a year away. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the rebel Congress legislators won’t wreak havoc, once the BJP takes over the reins.