Uttarakhand may discomfit BJP during Parliament session

Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat addresses the media in Dehradun. File photo
A warrant against industrialist Vijay Mallya and a sharp attack on the Congress leadership in the Ishrat Jahan case — the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday moved adroitly in an attempt to blunt any attacks from the Opposition during the second half of the Budget session, which begins on Monday. But, the decision to impose President’s Rule in Uttarakhand continues to give government strategists nervous moments.

The developments of the past few days indicate the BJP might have messed up in Uttarakhand. The legal battle over imposition of President’s Rule in the hill state and disqualification of nine rebel Congress legislators has continued in the high court, and is increasingly looking unfavourable for the Centre.

Its decision to dismiss the Harish Rawat-led Congress government without giving it an opportunity to prove its majority on the floor of the House has been criticised by legal experts since it has violated the norm set in the S R Bommai case.

And, the BJP’s attempts to cobble a majority have until now failed. Both the party and the government now have barely a week to set their house in order in Uttarakhand before Parliament meets next Monday. The Budget session was prorogued to bring an ordinance for the Uttarakhand budget. When the two Houses meet, the government will have to ratify its decision to impose President’s Rule in the state. The government is woefully short of majority in the Rajya Sabha and might get embarrassed.

Meanwhile, the six MLAs belonging to the Progressive Democratic Front met on Sunday and reaffirmed their support for Rawat. The Front comprises one Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, two Bahujan Samaj Party and three Independent legislators. The BJP had hoped to get the support of at least four of these MLAs.

Then, there are disagreements within the Sangh Parivar. A section of the party’s state unit, as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), believe that the move to dislodge the Rawat government is likely to boomerang in the next assembly polls. The polls, if held according to schedule, are due by early 2017, along with Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. They also argue the party doesn’t have a face that can challenge Rawat and there is no unanimity over Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s name with BJP. The fate of nine disqualified Congress legislators hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, the two-judge bench of the high court on Monday observed the Governor should have “stayed his hand” while dealing with the Speaker over proceedings in the Assembly. It said the (Speaker) is also a Constitutional authority and “any intrusion” into his freedom should be guarded.

The division bench said the case was going to be an example where boundaries between Constitutional authorities like President and Governor were drawn to ensure that powers “are not trampled upon by one or the other authority.” The court was hearing a plea by Rawat, challenging the imposition of the President’s Rule on March 26, and other related pleas. The bench was commenting on the issue arising out of a letter of 35 MLAs, including the nine rebels, who had written to the Governor, seeking a direction to the Speaker to allow their demand for a division of votes on the passage of the Appropriation Bill on March 18 and a communication from the Governor’s secretariat on the subject.

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