The Uttarakhand High Court in Nainital on Tuesday ordered a floor test in the Vidhan Sabha on March 3. This is a major embarrassment to the Centre, which had imposed President's Rule in the state two days ago citing a breakdown of constitutional authority.
Harish Rawat, who was unseated from his post as chief minister, has been asked to test his majority on the floor of the House in a copybook interpretation of the S R Bommai judgment that for the first time permitted judicial review of the imposition of President's Rule.
For Rawat, however, this is a poisoned chalice: for the nine MLAs who had challenged the government by threatening to vote against the Budget presented by him, have been permitted to vote when the House meets on March 31. They were disqualified by the Speaker when they sought a division or counting of votes.
If their vote had been counted as 'nays', the government would have fallen on the spot. By allowing them to take part in the voting and disregarding the Speaker's disqualification, the court order has tightened the noose around Rawat's neck.
The rebels are most likely to vote against the government on March 31. However, the nine Congress rebels will lose their membership of the House for having defied the whip of the party, propelling the state towards early elections.
The nine MLAs including former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and senior Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat had declared their intention last week to vote against the Budget.
The Rawat government must have at least 36 MLAs in a House of 70. With nine stating unambiguously that they have lost confidence in him, the Congress now has only 27. Friendly MLAs number six: Bahujan Samaj Party (2), Independents (3) and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (1).
This does not take the government to the magic number of 36.
Moreover, these MLAs cannot be counted upon as they are reassessing their position recognising the risk to the stability of the Rawat-led government.
Since the high court did not pass any order on President's rule, legal experts say the central rule in the hill state would continue. Besides, the order is only a partial relief to Rawat, who had challenged the imposition of President's rule.
This is only an interim order. The final decision of the high court would come only after the disposal of the petition by rebel MLAs challenging their disqualification by Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal.
"The high court has passed an order which, according to us, accepts the points that despite the President's rule, there is enough scope for judicial review to allow a floor test. The floor test was asked by us on the basis of the past precedents of the Supreme Court's judgments. The floor test is a paramount consideration and mere horse-trading allegations cannot justify President's rule and stop the floor test," said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is the counsel for Rawat.
Interpreting the judgment further, Singhvi said the court allowed only for counting of votes by disqualified as well as non-disqualified MLAs.
The votes of the disqualified MLAs will be kept separately for their identification in a separate room and it will be subject to the final outcome.
Legal experts also said the speaker will have very little role in the floor test and there was also suspense whether he can cast his vote. The Registrar of the High Court will remain present in the Vidhan Sabha as an observer. Welcoming the order, Rawat said the new order has come as an obstacle in the attempts by the Centre to destabilise various non-BJP governments in other states.
BJP spokesperson Shrikant Sharma said the party would comment on the court order only after reading it. "Uttarakhand is passing through a constitutional crisis created by the Speaker who ignored a written plea by several legislators that there should be a vote on the Appropriation Bill. The world has also seen how Harish Rawat offered ~5 -15 crore to rebel Congress legislators."
The BJP asked why the Congress was indulging in offering money to its rebels if it has the majority.
"This is an internal fight of the Congress. Rawat had conspired to remove Vijay Bahuguna as chief minister and now he is harvesting what he had sown. Even now, they are in a minority as they paraded 33 MLAs in front of the governor, which includes the Speaker and six from outside," Sharma added.
The BJP is confident that the Rawat government will lose the floor test. It is likely that Uttarakhand will see an election in the next six months. The party is keen that Rawat, considered a consummate leader within the BJP, shouldn't be at the helm in the state if it is to have any chances of winning in Uttarakhand. If he is removed now, he will not be able to continue as a caretaker chief minister.
(Courtesy : *Business Standard)