Most of you already know that at difficult moments our institutions often fail to live up to the high expectations we have of them. So it’s no surprise this is true of the Uttarakhand crisis. But wait, there is more in this instance. Six separate institutions, each acting autonomously and, presumably, not influenced by each other, have raised worrying questions. That’s not just disturbing. It could even be unique.
First, the speaker. Govind Singh Kunjwal ignored a demand for a division over the Appropriation Bill and, instead, declared it passed by voice vote. However, did such a vote actually take place? A report sent to the governor reportedly says “the sequence of events in the Assembly along with a video recording shows that … a demand for a division was raised … (but) neither this nor a vote by show of hands took place” (Times of India, 30/3).
The allegation is the speaker refused a division because he knew the government would lose. What followed was designed to protect the Rawat government and not fulfil the requirements of parliamentary practice.
Next, the chief minister. Harish Rawat claims the Samachar Plus sting-video is a fake but we’ve heard him clearly discussing cash and ministerial posts. In one instance, he says that if one of the defectors is made a minister and uses his portfolio to make money he will turn a blind eye.
Kapil Sibal told me this is not horse-trading because that involves poaching from your opponents whilst Harish Rawat was talking to his own party men. Technically, that’s right. But Harish Rawat was still allegedly offering bribes to secure support. It hardly matters the offer was made to colleagues and not opponents.
Third, the governor. Mr Paul first insisted the chief minister take a floor test on March 28. However, 24 hours before the deadline, he seems to have changed his mind and recommended President’s rule. Assuming that’s correct, it amounts to a perplexing switch. Did he have second thoughts? Or did he succumb to pressure? Unfortunately, even if unfair, such questions are unavoidable.
Let’s come to the prime minister. Mr Modi dismissed a government 24 hours before a scheduled floor test and in defiance of the fact the Bommai judgement explicitly states its majority must be proven on the floor of the House and not in Raj Bhavan or Rashtrapati Bhavan. Many who believed his commitment to cooperative federalism expected better. He disappointed them.
Now, penultimately, the President. In 1997, when Inder Gujral wanted to dismiss Kalyan Singh’s BJP government in UP and, again in 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to dismiss Rabri Devi’s government in Bihar, President Narayanan asked the government to reconsider. Such is the moral power of the presidency both governments did. Alas, Pranab Mukherjee chose not to exercise similar influence though the Uttarakhand issue was equally controversial and the case for President’s rule far from clearly established. Pinaki Misra of the BJD says the President “blotted his copybook”.
Finally, the Uttarakhand High Court. In a bizarre ruling it ordered a floor test without staying President’s rule and with the assembly in suspended animation. The High Court also permitted disqualified MLAs to vote without lifting their disqualification. I’m tempted to say this was nonsensical but I won’t.
The conclusion: Six separate institutions, of whom we have a right to expect better, failed to live up to our expectations. Each of them seems to have added to the problem, not resolved it.
The views expressed are personal