The Supreme Court will on Wednesday officially announce the outcome of the floor test conducted in the Uttarakhand assembly the previous day. However, reports coming out of Dehradun on the eve of the announcement appeared to confirm a Congress victory, even as the Bharatiya Janata Party, which went all out to topple the state government, did not dispute these claims.
Reports suggested that 33 legislators had voted for the Congress, while the BJP got the support of 28 MLAs, thus paving the way for the reinstatement of the Harish Rawat government.
The Congress’ strength in the assembly had been reduced to 27 members after the Speaker disqualified nine party rebels, a decision which was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, the dethroned Uttarakhand chief minister was reportedly bailed out by six legislators – three independent MLAs, one from the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (informally called the Progressive Democratic Front) and two legislators from the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Change of heart
Although these six MLAs have been supporting the Congress since the formation of the government in 2012, the BJP had stepped up efforts to lure them in the run-up to the crucial trust vote. According to senior BJP leaders, it had appeared that the party would succeed in its mission after BSP chief Mayawati privately assured them of support.
But the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister lived up to her reputation of being unpredictable. Shortly before the floor test on Tuesday morning, Mayawati made a formal announcement that her two legislators in Uttarakhand would vote for the Congress.
BJP leaders admitted that Mayawati’s decision had proved to be a turning point in Uttarakhand’s long-running political saga. “She first said she would support us, appeared to be neutral a day before, but then everything changed this morning,” said a senior BJP leader.
Even as the BJP was making concerted efforts to woo the BSP and independent legislators, the Congress crisis managers were also hard at work. Besides Rawat, senior Congress leaders including Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni were also in constant touch with these legislators. Realising that the BSP legislators would only act on Mayawati’s instructions, Patel personally spoke to the BSP chief who, it is learnt, assured him of her party’s support on the eve of the vote.
Eye on 2017
Congress insiders maintain it would have been difficult for Mayawati to support the BJP given that the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are barely a year away. “Mayawati’s plank in Uttar Pradesh is anti-BJP,” said a senior Congress leader. “If her legislators had not voted for the Congress, Mayawati would have immediately been accused of colluding with the BJP. And she could not afford to face such a charge at this crucial juncture.”
For Mayawati, the BJP presents a bigger threat in Uttar Pradesh than the Congress. While the grand old party is a bit player in the electorally-crucial Hindi heartland state, the BJP has far more at stake after it swept the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Having lost out to the BJP in the general election, Mayawati has to go all-out to battle the saffron outfit if she wishes to come back to power in Uttar Pradesh.
Had she backed the BJP in Uttarakhand, she would have become an immediate suspect in the eyes of the minorities, whose support is crucial for her. With the ruling Samajwadi Party government is on slippery turf in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati is hoping to once again consolidate the Dalit-Muslim vote which had swept her to power in the 2007 assembly elections.
While the Uttar Pradesh assembly election was a major consideration, the BSP and the Progressive Democratic Front legislators were compelled to turn down the BJP’s overtures and stand by the Congress in Uttarakhand because of the ground situation in the hill state.
The attempts to topple the Congress government and the Modi government’s decision to impose President’s Rule in Uttarakhand actually turned the tide in favour of Harish Rawat, earning him the sympathy of the electorate which sees him as a victim of the BJP’s machinations.
With the public leaning in favour of Rawat, the BSP and other MLAs believed it was politically advantageous to stand by the Congress as it currently appears to be on the winning side in Uttarakhand. As the third largest party in Uttarakhand with a 12% vote share, it made political sense for the BSP to support the Congress.
Moreover, there is every possibility that the Uttarakhand assembly election will be held ahead of schedule next February. If the Supreme Court officially revives the Congress government on Wednesday, Rawat is expected to recommend the dissolution of the state assembly and go in for an early election to take advantage of the sympathy wave in his favour. Congress insiders maintained that the decision will be taken before the Supreme Court takes up the case of the nine disqualified legislators in July, after the Rajya Sabha election. The Congress is hoping to wrest the lone seat from the BJP in the hill state when elections for 57 Rajya Sabha seats are held in June.