Anticlimax In Uttarakhand
The restoration of the Congress government is nothing short of an anti-climax, if one views the development from the point of view of the central government. The validity of the grounds on the basis of which the central government had decided to impose the President’s rule in the state is still sub-judice at the time of writing this column. Let it be noted that the Supreme Court, which is dealing with various aspects of the case, including the validity of the imposition and the disqualification of the nine Congress rebels, did not lift the President’s rule; it only allowed the central government to revoke the President’s rule. In other words, the initiative for lifting the President’s rule in Uttarakhand was taken by the central government itself, the same central government which had imposed it in the first place about one and half months ago. And that for me is the anticlimax.
It could be argued that circumstances when the central rule was imposed and the circumstances on May 11 when the Modi government decided to lift it are markedly different. After all, the central government’s case has been argued first in the Uttarakhand High Court and then in the Supreme Court by one of the finest legal brains of the country, the Attorney General. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that many will agree with me that there has been a serious inconsistency on the part of the central government in its legal arguments over the last one and half months. If there were sound legal reasons behind the imposition of the central rule, they did not lose any relevance whatsoever even after the deposed Chief Minister Harish Rawat achieved the majority on the floor of the House on May 10. But the learned Attorney General did not put forward that rationale in the Supreme Court; he literally surrendered and asked permission for lifting the central rule. That for me is the anticlimax.
Let us see the sequence of the events as they unfolded in Uttarakhand. On March 18, Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal declared the budget passed without going for the division that was pressed by 37 members (28 from the BJP and nine from the ruling Congress). Since Uttarakhand has a 70-member legislature, clearly on that day the Rawat government was in a minority. Had the voting taken place, the budget proposals (a money-bill) would have been defeated and the Rawat government would have fallen that day. The matter went to the state Governor, who did not approve the “passed” budget and asked Rawat to prove his majority on the floor of the House on March 28. Before the trial of strength, the Speaker disqualified the nine rebel Congress members and effectively brought down the strength of the legislature to 61. So, had the trust vote taken place on March 28, Rawat would have easily won – with BJP getting 28 and the Rawat government getting 33. And it is precisely the same numbers that the two sides had during the Supreme Court-monitored vote on May 10.
The question for the Modi government is thus obvious. If you imposed the President’s rule on March 26, knowing that with the disqualification of the rebels by the Speaker, the Rawat government would have easily won the trust vote on March 28, how did you seek the apex court’s permission to revoke the central rule on May 11 on the ground that Rawat won the court-monitored trust vote on May 10? If the floor test was not the yardstick for you on March 26 in imposing the central rule, how did you revoke the central rule on the same ground without even waiting for the court’s verdict? This is anticlimax for me, indeed !
As I have said, I am not a lawyer; but my sheer common sense suggests that if I were the Attorney General, I would have argued in the Supreme Court on May 11 that the floor test on May 10 did vindicate the central government’s decision that on March 18, when the budget was deemed to have been passed in the Uttarakhand Assembly, the Rawat government, with the support of 33 members, did not enjoy the majority in the 70-member Assembly. And since the budget was declared to be passed fraudulently through the so-called “voice-vote” by the Speaker who was bound to go for the voting when it was pressed by the members, the Rawat government had lost the legitimacy to continue.
With such an argument, the Attorney General should have waited for the court’s reactions. After all, the court had given enough indications that the matter before it was strong enough for being referred to a bigger constitutional bench. Secondly, the apex court had already accepted the Congress rebels’ case challenging their disqualification by the Speaker. Any decision in their favour will in any case force the Rawat government, now restored, to go.
All told, the Speaker’s decision and its endorsement by the Uttarakhand High Court are of extreme constitutional significance. As I had argued in my last column, since the Speaker did not allow the division of votes and got the budget passed without voting, there was no way of finding out whether or not the rebels would have gone against the Congress party whip. What the Speaker did then is highly debatable. Before the day of the vote of confidence as demanded by the Governor, the Speaker disqualified the rebels so as to bring down the strength of the Assembly for the survival of the Rawat government. It seems that the Speaker disqualified them by “anticipating” that they will vote against the party on whose tickets they were elected. He may be right. But can you punish somebody in anticipation?
But this was not all. The High Court later suggested that the Speaker was supreme and he could never be wrong, whereas the President, the Prime Minister and the Governor could commit improprieties. And this at a time when the Congress party has challenged the Lok Sabha Speaker’s power to certify whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not in the Supreme Court!
It is against this backdrop that one fails to understand what was the necessity on the part of the Attorney General to plead for the lifting of the central rule instead of putting that decision to the learned judges? And this is anticlimax for me, indeed!
All told, but for the legal or constitutional grounds, there were simply no reasons for the Modi government to remove Harish Rawat from the power. Politically, the decision made no sense at a time when the elections were due in the state in some months. There was already a strong anti-incumbency factor in the state, which the BJP could well have taken advantage of. Even during the President’s rule, the party mishandled the situation terribly. Instead of trying to muster support from the independent legislators supporting the Rawat government, the party,
it is said, badly exposed the infightings within, with at least three leaders working at cross-purposes to become the Chief Minister!
The end result of all this is that the Congress has scored over the BJP, both legally and politically. The BJP, the Modi government to be precise, has squandered an opportunity, which, to me, had great legal merits. That Modi’s Attorney General does not think so is anticlimax for me.
By Prakash Nanda