Uttarakhand Floor Test: BJP’s Adventure with Article 356 Gets Reality Check

The Uttarakhand episode is an object lesson for the BJP leadership, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah.

Harish Rawat after the floor test in the Uttarakhand Assembly. Credit: PTI

Harish Rawat after the floor test in the Uttarakhand Assembly. Credit: PTI

The BJP’s sheer adventurism with regard to the indiscriminate use of Article 356 of the Constitution has got a timely reality check, with the Uttarakhand floor test indicating a victory for the Congress, though the numbers will be formally declared by the Supreme Court under whose watch the floor test occurred. It appears that the Congress managed to get about 33 votes in a house of 61 which did not include the 9 disqualified MLAs who had tried to bring down the Harish Rawat government in the first place with active help from the BJP. This is clearly a big setback for the BJP and the result of Uttarakhand is bound to have some impact on the UP elections next year. It is significant that the BSP supremo Mayawati, whom the BJP tried to woo desperately, supported the Congress. A few independent MLAs also saw which way the political wind was blowing and probably resisted temptations offered by the BJP.

Indeed, there are moments in politics when the behaviour of various key players is determined more by the spirit of the times rather than just money power. Mayawati and the independent MLAs must have judged the overall sentiment on the ground before voting. It is here that the BJP leadership is fast losing the battle as the naked cynicism and visible arrogance of its party leaders is meeting with its comeuppance. We have seen this happen in politics all the time yet the leaders don’t seem to learn their lessons.

The Uttarakhand episode is an object lesson for the BJP leadership, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah, who had been resorting to all manner of unorthodox and undemocratic stratagems to destabilise the Congress. Not just the Congress, Shah has tried these tactics with other opposition parties too in the past. As a result, the ruling party hardly enjoys any goodwill with the opposition as a whole and this is also telling on legislative governance.

The Uttarakhand assembly vote has boosted the morale of the Congress which faced an unprecedented onslaught from the ruling party bent on implementing its strategy of “Congress Mukt Bharat”. In the process, Shah and Modi are actually working towards the revival of the Congress even if the main opposition party itself is yet to get its act together in any significant way. The BJP is losing no opportunity to attack and disable the Congress even though politically it is generally expected of a ruling party, with a legislative majority, to focus more on governance than on discrediting an opposition with just 44 members in the Lok Sabha. In this context, it was surprising that the prime minister should have obliquely raised the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin while alluding to the AgustaWestland helicopter bribes in an election meeting in Kerala. Gandhi gave a strong reply from Kerala saying she would die in India and her ashes would mingle with her near and dear ones. Note the reference to “ashes”, a subtext that she is culturally as Hindu as anyone. In short, the BJP is rearing for a fight every day with someone or the other.

Every such victory, as has happened in Uttarakhand, will act as a big morale booster for the Congress cadres. The BJP seemed to have tasted blood when it dismissed the Arunachal Pradesh government some months ago. The leadership, in its arrogance, must have thought it could repeat Arunachal in Uttarakhand. That was a big mistake. Uttarakhand was bungled because it was done ever more brazenly. The fact that the Centre could not wait 24 hours for a floor test and instead chose to dismiss the government sealed the BJP’s fate. The High Court did not accept the constant shifting of goal posts – first corruption and then money bill falling through – by the Centre to justify the dismissal of the CM Harish Rawat.

The Centre then went to the Supreme Court which pretty much followed the prescription suggested by the high court. Even worse, the Supreme Court disallowed the participation of the nine dissident MLAs in the floor test. This was the last nail on the Centre’s attempt to dismiss the Uttarakhand government.

The ruling NDA will hopefully have learnt the lesson that having a majority in the Lok Sabha does not give it a licence to “fix” political opponents, judiciary, investigative mechanisms at will. Someone or the other will always stand up in the system against such brute, undemocratic methods. Indeed, we live on this hope alone.