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Political own-goal

The party has not come out looking good from this entire political fiasco while potentially jeopardizing its chances next year. The fiasco has brought nothing for the BJP, but a reputation of using the Centre to topple non-BJP state governments. 

Results from the Supreme Court-monitored floor test on Tuesday indicate that the Congress managed to win 33 seats out of 61 in the state assembly. It is enough for Harish Rawat to be reinstated as the chief minister. The BJP’s approach in Uttarakhand was reminiscent of what happened in Arunachal Pradesh late last year. And with the Congress-led government holding a very thin majority in Uttarakhand, the BJP thought it could convince some rebel Congress legislators to jump ship, impose President’s rule and then install a new government with the rebels.

 The first part of the plan worked a beauty. Nine Congress MLAs went against the party during a vote on the Appropriations Bill. But the Speaker suspended the rebel legislators and declared the Bill passed. The Centre then decided to jump in and impose President’s Rule a day before the Governor-approved floor test was scheduled to take place. Reports indicate that the Centre’s decided to move in after the release of a video that showed Rawat allegedly offering bribes to win the votes of rebel Congress leaders. But in fairness, the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule came amidst reports that the disqualification of nine rebel Congress MLAs would have enabled Rawat to sail through in the trust vote on March 28. 

It would be an understatement to suggest that the judiciary was none too pleased by the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule. In the landmark SR Bommai case, the apex court had clearly established that any imposition of President’s rule under Article 356 can be examined by the courts. More importantly, it ruled that the question of a majority can only be established on the floor of the house. It was a point reiterated by both the Uttarakhand High Court and Supreme Court. Finally, the apex court decided to suspend President’s rule for two hours on Tuesday to conduct a floor test.

Amidst all the legal wrangling, there was some rather unsavory politicking from both the BJP and Congress. Legislators were flown around to keep them at arm’s length from rival camps. Amidst the politicking, the Congress sought to take the moral high ground. But it had no moral high ground to stand on in the first place. At no point did the party address the reasons why nine of its legislators were willing to rebel. As this column has reiterated in the past, the rebellion was precipitated by the party high command’s utter failure to control discontent within its own ranks.

 Meanwhile, two sting operations surfaced, alleging that Rawat was trying to buy legislators to shore up his government’s numbers in the house. Despite the Congress party’s gross failures, the BJP took a chance and ended up scoring a political own goal with its hurried imposition of President’s rule. In the process, the Harish Rawat government has gone from a struggling incumbent walking towards defeat in next year’s elections to a “victim” of the BJP’s underhand tactics. The apex court’s decision has further vindicated that feeling among Congress supporters. It could have been so much easier for the BJP. The party could have allowed the anti-incumbency sentiment against the Harish Rawat government fester till next year’s elections.

 Suffice to say, the Congress-led government under both Vijay Bahuguna and Harish Rawat has not been a roaring success. Failure to manage the recent forest fires and its inability to rebuild the state after the devastating floods of 2013 are some of the glaring mistakes of this government. Under such circumstances, the BJP could have been in a position to walk away with the elections. But now all the talk is of how it tried to topple a government and failed. Moreover, the state unit of the BJP is also a divided house in Uttarakhand. It has three former chief ministers in its camp who all have ambitions to lead the party in the next assembly elections.

 Irrespective of the floor test results, the people of Uttarakhand have been cheated. At ground zero there is a lot of skepticism 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. They see both national parties as deeply corrupt entities and have lost their faith in a lot of leaders.
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