The Supreme Court on Monday barred nine disqualified rebel Congress lawmakers from participating in a trust vote in Uttarakhand, in what could potentially boost sacked chief minister Harish Rawat’s chances of saving his government.
The lawmakers approached the top court within minutes of the Uttarakhand high court’s refusal to quash their disqualification by state assembly speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal. They appealed that their disqualification be suspended for two hours so that they could vote in the floor test on Tuesday.
“The prayer for interim relief (for stay of the high court judgment) can be considered on the date of next hearing,” an apex court bench of Justices Dipak Mishra and Shiva Kirti Singh said. The case will be heard again on July 12.
The court’s decision gives Rawat the advantage, though the trust vote could be touch-and-go for both the ruling Congress and opposition BJP. The disqualification of nine legislators has reduced the 71-member assembly’s strength to 62, which includes the speaker. Rawat will need the support of 31 MLAs to win the show of strength. The speaker, who does not usually vote, has a casting ballot in the event of a tie.
The Congress has 27 lawmakers, excluding the nine disqualified rebels. It hopes to get the support of six Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) members and the nominated member. The PDF includes three independent lawmakers, two from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal’s lone MLA.
The BJP has 27 lawmakers, excluding a dissident, but it claims to have the support of a woman Congress MLA who is close to BJP veteran Bhagat Singh Koshyari. That takes the BJP’s total to 28 but still three short of the required figure. It is counting on the BSP for support.
The hill state plunged into crisis after nine MLAs of the ruling Congress sided with the opposition BJP during a debate on the budget in March. The political upheaval prompted the centre to bring the state under President’s rule on March 27, a day before Rawat was to take a governor-mandated floor test.
The Centre’s move drew wide opposition criticism that it was trying to destabilise non-BJP governments in states.
The matter eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ordered the suspension of central rule from 10.30am to 1pm for Tuesday’s floor test, which will be videographed and overseen by a court-appointed observer.
Earlier in the day, the Uttarakhand high court dashed the rebels Congress MLAs’ hopes of participating in the vote, saying they had “voluntarily given up membership” of the Congress even if they did not join any other political party. The conduct attracted disqualification under the anti-defection law.
The 57-page judgment by Justice UC Dhyani of the high court said the petitions were dismissed because the speaker’s order did not violate the principles of natural justice — as alleged by the rebel MLAs.
The court also rejected the MLAs’ plea that they had not been given enough time to respond to the speaker’s order disqualifying them.