The political crisis in Uttarakhand reached a cliffhanger of sorts on Saturday night, with reports emerging that speaker Govind Kunjwal had disqualified nine rebel MLAs of the ruling Congress at a time when the Centre is considering imposition of President’s Rule in the state.
Kunjwal’s reported move may alter the political equation in the state, providing a lifeline to chief minister Harish Rawat – who has to prove his government’s majority in the 70-member assembly on Monday.
News agency PTI reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a late-night cabinet meeting in Delhi, where he was said to have discussed the Uttarakhand crisis and the possibility of imposing President’s Rule. The talks came hours after a sting video aired by a local channel purportedly showed 69-year-old Rawat striking a multi-crore deal for bringing rebels back into the party fold.
Rawat said an “unholy alliance ” led by Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah was behind the sting, accusing the saffron party of orchestrating the crisis.
Meanwhile, the rebel lawmakers – led by former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna – supported the BJP legislators’ demand for a conscience vote at the assembly’s budget session on March 18. But if the nine MLAs are disqualified now, the strength of the assembly will be reduced to 61.
Rawat may get the support of 27 Congress MLAs and six others, bringing the total number to 33 – enough for him to survive the floor test. However, speculations are rife over how the Centre plans to prevent the situation from working out in the Congress government’s favour. It has already received a report from governor KK Paul on the crisis.
Modi had cut short his visit to Assam, where he was addressing election rallies in view of the upcoming elections, to call the hour-long emergency cabinet meeting. There was no official confirmation about the topic of discussion, but sources told PTI that another meeting would be held on Sunday before a final call was taken on the matter.
Maintaining that the Uttarakhand government has a majority in the assembly, the Congress leadership denounced attempts to pull down a “duly elected government” on the basis of a “farcical sting operation”.
At a hurriedly convened press conference at the Congress headquarters here, party general secretary Ambika Soni said the BJP was desperately trying to dislodge the state government by imposing President’s Rule.
A BJP delegation had met President Pranab Mukherjee earlier in the day to state that Rawat has no right to continue after being “exposed” in the sting video. Its memorandum to the President was also critical of the governor, alleging that he “did not act on the request of the majority of the legislature to dismiss the state government”.
(With inputs from HTC in Delhi and agencies)