The CBI has asked Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat to appear before it on Monday over a sting that purportedly showed him negotiating a deal in March to lure dissident Congress lawmakers to back him during a floor test.
The consent for a CBI probe was given by governor KK Paul when the hill state was under President’s rule for nearly two months since March 27 after nine Congress MLAs revolted against the Rawat government and sided with the opposition BJP.
Rawat was reinstated after he won a Supreme Court-monitored trust vote on May 10.
The controversial video — released on March 26 — shows him trying to lure dissident Congress lawmakers with money and plum posts to support him in a floor test in the assembly on March 28, which never happened.
The video, authenticated by the Chandigarh-based central forensic science laboratory later, was partly instrumental in bringing the state under central rule as allegations of horse-trading swirled.
Rawat had admitted his presence in the video but dared critics to prove if he was making any offer in cash or kind. “Hang me on the clock tower (in Dehradun) if I had done wrong.”
He challenged the probe in the high court on May 20 and had skipped summonses by the agency. His cabinet had even passed a resolution to cancel the CBI probe, though the agency rejected the decision.
The court rejected on Friday the chief minister’s application for relief after the CBI summoned him to appear before the agency in New Delhi on Monday. He was quizzed before, at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi on May 24, for five hours.
The court had asked Rawat in previous hearings to cooperate with the CBI. The agency was told to inform the court before registering any FIR against the chief minister. The next hearing is on February 7.
The CBI’s summons has the potential to raise political temperature in the state that votes for a new assembly next year, as the Congress has accused the BJP of using the central agency to harass and undermine opponents.
The agency had registered a “preliminary enquiry or PE”, a precursor to a regular case or FIR, against Rawat seven months ago. The CBI’s crime manual — the agency’s guidebook — says a PE must be completed in three months.
Also, the manual says PEs “relating to allegations of bribery and corruption should be limited to the scrutiny of records and interrogation of bare minimum persons which may be necessary to judge whether there is any substance in the allegations which are being inquired into and whether the case is worth pursuing further or not”.
Rawat’s lawyers could use the time lag of the PE to argue their case against the CBI probe.