Harish Rawat looked set to return as chief minister of Uttarakhand after his ruling Congress party said it had won a trust vote in the assembly on Tuesday.
The verdict, to be officially announced by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, could come as a blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) amid accusations that the party is trying to topple elected governments in opposition-ruled states. The result also cements Rawat’s position as the Congress party’s undisputed leader in the state after years of infighting.
Both Congress and BJP leaders said Rawat managed 33 votes, two more than the 31 required in a house with an effective strength of 62. The BJP managed 28 votes, the same number of MLAs it has in the assembly.
Rawat’s government plunged into crisis after nine of his party MLAs sided with the BJP during a debate over the state budget in March. After several rounds of appeals and counter-appeals in courts, the nine were barred by the Supreme Court from voting in Tuesday’s floor test.
Rawat, 68, who faced a huge challenge in keeping his flock together, did not comment on the outcome of the vote though other Congress leaders said the party has managed the requisite numbers.
“(The) clouds of doubts that had been hovering over Uttarakhand for such a long time will soon clear and the system will again get back on the rails,” said a beaming Rawat as he emerged from the assembly after the vote. The voting was completed in 50 minutes.
Rawat also took a veiled dig at the BJP saying “it is also a defeat of those who wanted to grab power by hook or crook”.
BJP leaders too conceded defeat but tried to put up a brave front.
“Almost 33 votes went in favour of (the) confidence motion moved by Harish Rawat while 28 MLAs were against it,” BJP MLA Rajesh Shukla said after the voting, held during a two-hour window when president’s rule was lifted following the apex court’s ruling.
State BJP president Ajay Bhatt, who managed a smile, said the party fared “far better” than expected.
In New Delhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi termed it a “victory” of democracy.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a tweet, “Uttarakhand floor test outcome is a huge setback to Modi Govt. Hope they will stop toppling Govts now (sic).”
The Centre clamped President’s rule in the state on March 27 citing breakdown in constitutional machinery, just a day before Rawat was to take a trust vote in the assembly.
On April 21, a division bench headed by then chief justice JM Joseph revoked President’s rule and asked Rawat to seek a trust vote on April 29. The Centre challenged the HC’s ruling in the top court which asked the deposed CM to prove his strength in the assembly on Tuesday.
BSP chief Mayawati handed Rawat an advantage on Tuesday morning by deciding to back the Congress. The BSP has two MLAs who are part of the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) that also includes three independent and a lone Uttarakhand Kranti Dal legislator.
The voting began amidst dramatic circumstances with a rebel BJP legislator Bhim Lal Arya switching sides while Congress MLA Rekha Arya appeared to have crossed over to the BJP. She entered the assembly with BJP MLAs flashing the victory sign.
Immediately after the vote, Congress leaders and workers celebrated at the Rajiv Bhawan, the party’s state headquarters located in the heart of Dehradun.
“Aap thoda rukiye, aaj yahan bhari jashn hoga (Wait a while, there will be big celebrations here),” said Hazi Mohammad Akram, a Congress leader from Nainital. The celebrations began soon after.
(With inputs from HTC New Delhi)