Technically speaking, if the Congress retains Uttarakhand, as all reports seem to indicate after the Supreme Court-monitored floor test on Tuesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party will not be losing anything. The state's assembly elections are not due till next year and the Congress was slated to be in charge until then anyway. But that's exactly the point. Technically, there wasn't even a battle here. Yet the BJP waded into the muddy waters and has emerged covered in muck while potentially winning nothing.
A BJP Member of Legislative Assembly told PTI on Tuesday that his party only got 28 votes in a floor test that came after the Supreme Court questioned the Centre's imposition of President's Rule in the state. If that figure is correct it would imply that the Congress managed to win at least 33 votes, enough for Harish Rawat to be reinstated as chief minister.
The votes themselves were sent in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court, which will officially announce the results of the floor test on Wednesday.
What happened in Uttarakhand?
Ever since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP swept most of North India – including all five seats in Uttarakhand – the state seemed to have been in the saffron party's cross hairs. Having a Congress government with a very thin majority only added to this, and the BJP thought it might replicate the Arunachal Pradesh approach: Convince some Congress MLAs to jump ship, impose President's Rule, and then install a new government with the rebels.
The first part went as planned, with nine Congress MLAs rebelling during a vote on the Appropriations Bill. The Speaker, however, suspended those legislators and declared the Bill passed. Here the Centre jumped in and, citing the Speaker's behaviour, claimed a "breakdown of law and order" sufficient to impose President's Rule.
The judiciary was not pleased. The landmark SR Bommai case established that any imposition of President's Rule can be examined by the courts and that the question of majority can only be established on the floor of the house. The Uttarakhand High Court and the Supreme Court reiterated these points over the last few weeks, and finally decided to put President's Rule in abeyance for two hours on Tuesday to hold the floor test.
What does it mean for the BJP & Congress?
The interim, between the Appropriations Bill, saw some uncomfortably brazen politicking from the Congress and the BJP, with MLAs being flown around to keep them away from rival camps. Harish Rawat and the Congress looked particularly sketchy, with two sting operations alleging that the former chief minister was trying to buy MLAs. While the Congress' central unit complained about the BJP's "murder of democracy" in Uttarakhand, it didn't address the reasons why the nine legislators were willing to rebel in the first place.
Yet despite the Congress' neglect of the state, the BJP's hurry to impose President's Rule and come to power has managed to flip the script. From anti-incumbency sentiments growing over Rawat's rule, the Congress first managed to portray itself as the victim of the BJP's underhand tactics.
And then, after the courts jumped in, the Congress seemed vindicated allowing it to claim that the judiciary had saved democracy from being "murdered." If it does indeed win the floor test, even some of the unsavoury rumours of buying MLAs will be washed away as the party celebrates winning a battle that the BJP picked.
For the saffron party, a loss will come as yet another blow in a year of electoral setbacks. If the BJP had only waited a little longer it might have allowed anti-incumbency against Rawat to build further – think of the forest fires taking place under the Congress reign – and been in place to win elections next year.
Now that ant-incumbency trend is in question and Uttarakhand will remain in flux. The BJP will be desperately hoping it manages a majority in Assam, because if it fails to do that also, it will be staring at two whole years without any states coming over to the saffron side.