The Uttarakhand high court quashed President’s rule in the state on Thursday, restoring the Harish Rawat-led Congress government and asking it to prove its majority in the assembly on April 29.
The verdict comes as an embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government at the Centre, accused of trying to grab power in opposition-ruled states.
In Delhi, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said the government will challenge the high court’s verdict in the Supreme Court on Friday. In a counter move, chief minister Rawat filed a caveat in the apex court to ensure no order is passed without giving him a hearing.
Two Union ministers, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, met party chief Amit Shah to discuss the implications of the high court verdict.
The Centre imposed President’s rule in the state on March 27 citing “governance breakdown” after nine Congress lawmakers rebelled against Rawat. The deposed chief minister had challenged in court the Centre’s decision, which came just a day before he was to prove his strength in the assembly.
A division bench of the high court said at the end of four days of scathing observations against the Centre that it did not find enough material to justify imposition of President’s rule.
“When the government takes action under Article 356 of the Constitution, it is expected to be non-partisan, it cannot have any kind of bias, but we do not see it here,” the bench of chief justice KM Joseph and justice VK Bist said.
The court observed that such action by the Centre “undermine confidence of the little man who stands with a white paper to cast his vote braving the snow, heat and rain”.
Congress spokesman Abhishekh Singhvi who represented Rawat in court told HT that none of the eight reports sent by governor KK Paul to the Centre cited breakdown of constitutional machinery or recommended president’s rule.
“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a dismissed government has been reinstated by a judicial order,” senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said.
Thursday’s court decision triggered celebrations by Uttarakhand Congress workers who burst crackers and distributed sweets in capital Dehradun.
“We welcome the verdict. The whole country knows who was behind the political instability in the state,” Rawat told reporters.
“We don’t want to fight...They are powerful, mighty and broad-chested...I would request the Centre to forget the past and work in the spirit of cooperative federalism.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi attacked the Prime Minister in a tweet, “Modi Govt’s blatant power grab fails. Democracy wins (sic).”
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal called the court’s decision “a huge embarrassment” to the NDA government while Left parties said it was a “slap to the subverters” of the Constitution.
If Rawat fails to prove his majority, the governor could either invite the BJP to form the government or dissolve the house and call fresh elections.
The high court said the disqualification of the nine rebel MLAs by the speaker under the anti-defection law was no material for imposition of President’s rule. A single bench of the court will hear on April 23 the nine rebels’ plea against their disqualification, which may impact Rawat’s floor test.
The BJP put up a brave front after the adverse judgment saying that Rawat has been given relief by the court.
“The Harish Rawat government was in a minority yesterday, it is in a minority today and tomorrow. It will be proved on April 29,” party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said in Delhi.
(With agency inputs)