Uttarakhand governor KK Paul asked chief minister Harish Rawat on Saturday to prove his majority in the assembly by March 28 as political uncertainty in the state deepened following the defection of nine Congress legislators to the BJP.
The BJP staked claim to form the government with the support of 36 legislators, including the nine rebels, on Friday.
But the party may not have the numbers because the speaker can disqualify the former Congress members under the anti-defection law if they vote against the government.
Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal sought an explanation from the nine rebels and told reporters anyone in violation of the anti-defection law will face action.
In that case, the state could be headed for President’s Rule, less than a year before assembly elections.
Experts say the BJP won’t mind this scenario as it believes central rule will hurt the incumbent Congress.
The Congress, however, claimed it enjoyed the support of 35 legislators – just one short of majority in a 71-member assembly – with state party president Kishor Upadhyay saying on Saturday he was talking to five or six rebel Congress MLAs.
“They are in touch with me but I don’t want to open their names since their lives are in danger” he said. Rawat also said six dozen legislators intend to rejoin the party.
The Congress rebels have been brought to Delhi for parleys with the central BJP leadership.
“The Harish Rawat government has lost majority. Today BJP has the numbers with the support of rebel Congress MLAs to form a new government in Uttarakhand,” Shyam Jaju, the state in-charge of BJP, told PTI.
Rebel Congress MLA Pranav Singh ‘Champion’ told HT in Delhi that they (rebels) are ready to face the polls but there would be “no reconciliation”.
Asked if they would support a BJP government, he said, “Vijay Bahuguna is our leader. We will do whatever he decides.”
The Congress has 36 members in the assembly – including the nine rebels – while the BJP has 28, including one expelled MLA. There are three independent, two Bahujan Samaj Party and one Uttarakhand Kranti Dal MLA – all of whom are said to be supporting the Congress.
Rawat went into a huddle with cabinet ministers and speaker Kunjwal on Saturday. One nominated member from the Anglo-Indian community also supported the Congress.
“Time has been given to the rebel MLAs so that they apologise for their mistakes and return to the party fold”, the chief minister said in a statement. “Or else, action would be taken against them for violating the whip (issued by the party to vote for the money bill on the floor of the house.”
He alleged the BJP purchased the rebels by offering them Rs 5 to 10 crore, a charge denied by state BJP spokesperson Virendra Singh Bisht.
The governor accepted Rawat’s recommendation of sacking the minister-turned-rebel Harak Singh. The CM also ordered the removal of UK Uniyal, advocate general in the Uttarakhand high court and brother of rebel MLA Subodh Uniyal.
“The duo of Modi and Shah are infamous for forcible eviction of elected governments in this country. Elected government are being destabilised by a sinister conspiracy. After Arunachal Pradesh, it is Uttarakhand,” Congress chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala said.
The Rawat government plunged into crisis on Friday during the vote to pass the finance bill.
Professor MM Semwal, a constitutional expert at HNB Garhwal University, said the Rawat government might be reduced to a minority if the governor refused to ratify the finance bill, which appears to have been passed by a voice vote.
“In that case, the BJP could again demand for a conscience vote that might reduce the government to minority”, he said. “The nine rebel Congress MLAs though run the risk of inviting action under the anti-defection law.”
Semwal said the governor cannot recommend President’s Rule unless the Rawat government failed to prove its majority on the floor of the House.