A section of rebel Congress legislators who plunged the Uttarakhand government in crisis by supporting the BJP may be having second thoughts as both sides met President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.
The rebel group is headed by former CM Vijay Bahuguna, whose son Saket was expelled on Monday for six years from the party’s primary membership for “anti-party activities”.
Some rebel MLAs said their problem was with chief minister Harish Rawat’s ‘individualistic style” and not the party.
“We will be happy if this chief minister (Rawat) goes; we have not opposed our party nor do we have any intention to join the BJP,” former minister Harak Singh Rawat said on Sunday.
Congress MLA Shailarani Rawat said she opposed the CM because he never pushed for the projects meant for her constituency. “I am not opposed to our party,” she told a television channel.
On Monday, BJP leaders, led by party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, met the President and sought the dismissal of the Congress government, saying Harish Rawat had no moral right to remain chief minister.
“The Congress is the mother of all defections; don’t teach us sermons,” said Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu.
But the nine rebel leaders were not the part of the delegation.
Later in the evening, a Congress delegation met the President and requested that the CM be allowed to prove his majority as scheduled on March 28.
“We informed the President that the BJP people took the Congress leaders into their bus without their consent and presented them before the governor. Our MLAs have been held captive by them,” said leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Harish Rawat faces a crucial assembly floor test on March 28 after rebel MLAs supported the BJP during the passage of the finance bill, triggering charges that the Congress government had lost its majority.
In the 70-member assembly, the Congress has 36 legislators, including the nine rebels, the BJP has 28 – including one expelled member – while the six others comprise independents and smaller parties. One member is nominated from the Anglo-Indian community.
An adversary of the CM, Harak Singh Rawat said he had no intention of meeting BJP president Amit Shah.
“If at all, we will share our problems we will share them with our (Congress) president.”
Experts said the statements were a result of some rebels getting jittery as the Congress worked overtime to secure independents’ support.
The prospect of getting disqualified under the anti-defection law may have also spooked some.
Sources told HT the rebels are unhappy with the BJP that expected the governor to dissolve the assembly as soon as the nine MLAs switched sides. Instead, governor KK Paul gave the CM enough time for floor management that might trump the BJP’s efforts.
But other rebels refused to back down. MLA Umesh Sharma said sulking legislators never got a response from the Congress leadership over their grievances.
“We are all set to form the government. There is no question of joining the Congress camp and if Congress wants, it can extend support to us,” Sharma told HT.
Harish Rawat, who was scheduled to meet the party leadership in Delhi on Monday, was directed by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to stay put in Dehradun to tackle the crisis. He reportedly is in touch with six of the rebel MLAs and accused the BJP of “murdering democracy”.
Sharma conceded some Congress leaders had approached the rebel legislators, but said “it was too late now”.
“We were seeking time from the top brass for the last two years and none responded, and now suddenly everyone wants to speak to us,” Sharma said. Bahuguna, too, is said to be opposed to returning to the party fold.
The BJP is demanding an immediate trust vote and dismissal of the Congress government. It also accused speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal of working for the Congress and asked him to step down, a day after he issued show-cause notices to the rebels.
Both the Congress and BJP have moved their MLAs to ‘safe locations’. The BJP and rebels are in Delhi whereas Congress MLAs have been shifted to Ramnagar, close to the Corbett National Park.
(with inputs from HTC, Delhi)