The Uttarakhand cabinet on Sunday decided to withdraw the state’s consent for a CBI inquiry against chief minister Harish Rawat, who was allegedly caught in a sting video negotiating a deal to lure Congress dissident lawmakers.
The decision comes six days after Rawat skipped a CBI notice, summoning the chief minister to the agency’s headquarters in New Delhi for questioning.
The consent for a CBI probe was given by governor KK Paul when the hill state was under President’s rule. A cabinet meeting chaired by senior minister Indira Hridayesh on Sunday cancelled the governor’s decision and, instead, decided to form a special investigative team (SIT) to carry out the probe.
The Congress government reasoned that an “outside agency” can investigate the case in the absence of a state machinery or capacity to probe on its own. “The government will ask the Centre to take back the CBI investigation,” chief secretary Shatrughna Singh said.
The state was under President’s rule since March 27 after nine Congress MLAs revolted against the Rawat government and sided with the opposition BJP. Rawat was reinstated after he won a Supreme Court-monitored trust vote on May 10.
The controversial video — released on March 26 — shows the deposed chief minster trying to lure dissident Congress lawmakers with money and plum posts to support him in a floor test in the assembly on March 28, which never happened.
The video, authenticated by the Chandigarh-based central forensic science laboratory later, was partly instrumental in bringing the state under central rule as allegations of horse-trading swirled.
Rebel leader Vijay Bahuguna, whom Rawat had replaced in 2014 after an intense power struggle, and Harak Singh Rawat who engineered the split in the Congress called the cabinet decision illegal.
They challenged the chief minister to face the CBI “if he is clean”.
Rawat had admitted his presence in the video but dared critics to prove if he was making any offer in cash or kind. “Hang me on the clock tower (in Dehradun) if I had done wrong.”
The opposition BJP questioned the cabinet decision and asked why Rawat initially denied his presence in the video but accepted it later. “Harish had said he is ready to face the CBI … why does he want to skip the probe now?” party general secretary Virendra Bisht asked.
The editor of a local television channel who carried out the sting was contemplating a lawsuit, if required, against the cabinet decision. “The SIT is nothing but a way to muzzle my voice. In an act of vendetta, the government wants to harass me,” journalist Umesh Kumar alleged.
The same channel aired another video on May 8, in which a Congress MLA alleges that Rawat offered between Rs 25 and Rs 50 lakh to a dozen party legislators to stand by him.