Is the Bharatiya Janata Party attempting to replicate the Arunachal Pradesh model in Uttarakhand?
The Modi government’s decision to impose Central rule in Uttarakhand on Sunday, the day before the Congress-led Harish Rawat government was to face a floor test and keep the Assembly in suspended animation, suggests as much.
This is particularly so as the proclamation of President’s rule in a state has to be ratified by both houses of Parliament within two months of notification. The National Democratic Alliance government will find it difficult to get Parliamentary approval as it does not have the requisite numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
The second half of the ongoing budget session is to commence on April 25. The BJP is expected to step up efforts to form an alternative government in the coming weeks to avoid going to Parliament for the ratification of President’s rule in Uttarakhand.
The BJP had used the same strategy in Arunachal Pradesh last month. It imposed President’s rule in the North Eastern state but ensured that a new government was in place before Parliament convened for the budget session on February 23. The BJP did not form the government in Itanagar. Instead, its 11 legislators extended outside support to dissident Congress MLAs to enable them to form a new government. The Congress dragged the BJP to court in this matter but the apex court rejected its plea that it should be allowed to go in for a floor test in the assembly to prove its majority.
In Uttarakhand, governor KK Paul had directed Chief Minister Rawat to prove his majority in the Assembly on March 28 after nine Congress MLAs revolted against him. The BJP wanted the Rawat government to be dismissed, claiming that it was in a minority. The two sides have been involved in a war of words over the past few days with the situation becoming particularly dirty after the rebel legislators released a sting video on Saturday which reportedly showed Rawat indulging in horse-trading.
In a surprise move on Sunday, the BJP-led NDA government decided to recommend imposition of President’s rule without waiting for the floor test sought by the governor. This indicates that the BJP did not want the vote to take place as it feared that Rawat could pull off a victory after the Uttarakhand Speaker moved to disqualify the nine rebel Congress MLAs. Their disqualification would have reduced the strength of the 70-member assembly to 61. Rawat’s supporters maintained he could pass the floor test as he had the support of 33 legislators, which included 27 Congress legislators and six members of the Progressive Democratic Front. The BJP has 28 legislators in the assembly.
The imposition of President’s rule has given the BJP some breathing space. The party now has more time to wean away more Congress MLAs in the coming days on the plea that they would be forced to face an early election if a new government is not formed. Although the next Assembly elections is only a year away, legislators may be tempted to switch sides as nobody wants his tenure to be cut short.
Targetting Rahul Gandhi
Besides wanting to highlight that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is not in control, the BJP also wanted to cut Rawat to size before next year’s assembly polls. The BJP believes it will be at an advantage if it has its own government in place before the elections as it will then have control over the state machinery. It could also use the sting video to embroil Rawat in a legal case in its effort to discredit him. This is important for the BJP as Rawat is counted as the state’s tallest leader, with a considerable mass following. On the other hand, the BJP cannot boast of any credible state leaders.
At the same time, the BJP hopes that the Uttarakhand episode, followed by the fiasco in Arunachal Pradesh, will show the Congress in poor light in next month’s assembly polls in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The BJP has virtually no stakes in these elections but the Congress has to defend its state governments in Kerala and Assam. A defeat will not only reduce the number of state governments in the Congress kitty but it will also have an adverse impact at the national level. Congress cadres will become more restive and Rahul Gandhi will come under further pressure to prove himself. The BJP hopes an electoral setback would also force the Congress to tone down its offensive against the Modi government as it will have to necessarily focus on putting its own house in order first.