A two-month-long political tussle between the Congress and the BJP for the reins of Uttarakhand might come to an end on Tuesday when ousted chief minister Harish Rawat faces a trust vote on the floor of the assembly.
Both BJP and Rawat say they have the legislators to reach the magic figure of 31 but the floor test is more than a simple numbers game.
A section of the BJP feels the party failed to sense the ramification of ousting the Rawat government when they backed nine rebel Congress legislators.
The assembly has been reduced to 62 members – including one nominated member -- after the courts disqualified the nine rebels. The halfway-mark is 31. The Congress has 27 MLAs and the BJP 28, including one rebel legislator who might support Rawat.
Winning the trust vote will mean a larger-than-life image for the deposed CM who already projected himself as the ‘only’ leader of the Congress in the hill state. His rivals such as Harak Singh Rawat and Vijay Bahuguna are rebel leaders who cannot vote.
“But if he loses then BJP will get a chance to justify President’s Rule in the state that was imposed on March 27,” said political observer Prayag Pande.
For the BJP, Rawat’s win will be a blow to the NDA government. It will become difficult for the BJP to defend the imposition of Article 356 and a Rawat victory might also unite the Opposition at the national level.
The deposed CM made the political crisis as a battle between him and the BJP. He accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah of destabilising a ‘democratically elected government’.
“I am thankful that my name includes in the list of important people” Rawat said recently after a CBI case was filed against him in connection with a sting video.
Two secret videos have shown Rawat in bad light, purportedly making deals to get support of rebels and own party MLA’s. Rawat supporters feel negative publicity has dented image but “voters will soon forget”.
But this larger-than-image might boomerang on Rawat as his clean image has been dented by the stings and could hurt the Congress in the coming assembly polls next year. But BJP did not project anyone and could come out on top as it has at least five leaders to take on Rawat, including Bhagat Singh Koshyari and BC Khanduri.
For almost two months now, the Congress, rebels and BJP have played a ‘hide and seek’. The MLA’s from all three groups went in hiding because of fear of poaching by rivals.
“Our apprehensions have been proved by sting videos. Rawat has lost people’s faith” says Virender Bisht, BJP general secretary (Uttarakhand).
The Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow a trust vote by suspending President’s rule for two hours triggered hectic political activity in the state.
The BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayavargia is camping in Dehradun to oversee the ‘political management’ and the Congress sent leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Gulam Nabi Azad and state in-charge Ambika Soni for the crucial vote.
Before the duo arrived on Monday, Rawat alone handled the Congress affairs.
The political crisis in the state was triggered when the nine Congress rebels supported the BJP on March 18 during the passage of an appropriation bill.
The governor ordered a floor test but a day before the scheduled trust vote, the Centre imposed President’s rule on March 27.
Rawat challenged the President’s rule in the Uttarakhand high court, which on March 29 ordered trust vote two days later. But a division bench of the high court stayed the single bench ruling by justice U C Dhyani.
On April 21, the division bench headed by then chief justice J M Koseph revoked President’s rule restoring Rawat as CM and asking him to seek trust vote on April 29.
The next day, Centre got a stay from the Supreme Court against the HC order giving Rawat a place in the history books as being helm of a state for shortest period --- less than 24 hours – in which he held two Cabinet meetings and took 11 populist decisions.