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Trouble for Uttarakhand govt as BJP stakes claim with rebel Cong MLAs

The four-year-old Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand was under threat on Friday with rebel Congress MLAs revolting and joining BJP in the assembly in demanding a division of votes amid chaos on the state’s annual budget.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2016 23:52 IST
Uttarakhand government
The Congress has 36 MLAs in the 70-member Uttarakhand assembly. The ruling party also has the support of 6 members of the Progressive Democratic Front, while the BJP has 28 MLAs.(PTI File Photo)

The Congress-led government in Uttarakhand plunged into crisis on Friday night as the Opposition BJP staked claim to power with what it said was support from nine ruling party lawmakers.

Chief minister Harish Rawat, who took the hot seat in 2014 after an intense intra-party power struggle, said his government was safe with the backing of 35 legislators in the 70-member assembly.

“I am confident and will prove my majority on the floor of the House,” he said.

The crisis unfolded when rebel Congress legislators, led by former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, supported the BJP’s demand for a conscience vote in favour of the appropriation bill in the assembly.

Congress ministers almost came to blows before speaker GS Kunjwal adjourned the House till March 28.

Late in the evening, BJP leader Ajay Bhatt led 27 party legislators to the Raj Bhawan to ask governor KK Paul to dismiss the Congress government, saying it doesn’t have the numbers to rule. The Opposition party sought to form the next government with the support of nine Congress rebels and a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator.

“The 36 legislators will meet the governor to stake claim,” state BJP vice-president Dhan Singh Rawat said.

Chief minister Rawat enjoyed the support of 42 legislators — 37 from the Congress, three Independents and two BSP members — while the BJP has 28 MLAs. The BJP’s total strength would be 37, a comfortable majority to form its government, if the nine Congress MLAs loyal to Bahuguna join the rival camp.

But constitutional experts said all eyes will be on the assembly Speaker, who could disqualify the rebels under the anti-defection law.

The immediate trigger of the crisis is said to be a notice to Bahuguna and cabinet minister Harak Singh Rawat for not attending assembly sittings regularly. When the House met in the morning, the duo along with legislators loyal to Bahuguna walked over to the rival BJP to protest the appropriation bill.

Harak Singh told a news channel that he had resigned from the cabinet.

The central leadership, already saddled with a similar crisis in Arunachal Pradesh, is said to be speaking to some of the rebel MLAs.

The Congress, which has 47 MLAs in the 60-member Arunachal assembly, suffered a jolt when 21 of them revolted and 11 BJP MLAs backed the rebels in the bid to upstage the Nabam Tuki government. Later, Congress dissident Kalikho Pul became chief minister with the BJP’s support.