The four-year-old Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand was under threat on Friday with rebel Congress MLAs raising a banner of revolt and joining BJP in the Assembly in demanding a division of votes amid chaos on the state's annual budget that could have led to its fall. State Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal, however, rejected the demand for the division of votes triggering chaos in the Assembly with both opposition BJP and rebel Congress MLAs sitting on a dharna in the well of the House to insist on this procedure terming it their democratic right.
The Congress has a strength of 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. Rejecting the demand by the opposition, Speaker Kunjwal announced passage of the budget by voice vote and adjournment of the House till March 28 before he left his chair in the midst of prevailing din. The Speaker was seen leaving his Chair and making an exit even as a mixed group of BJP and nine rebel Congress MLAs continued to sit on a dharna in the well clamouring for a division of votes on the budget which they said was their democratic right.
Denying the members the right to go for a division of votes on the budget was murder of democracy, a BJP leader Umesh Agarwal alleged saying it was evasive tactics of the state government in the face of sure defeat.
Rebel Congress MLAs seen raising anti-government slogans along with BJP in the House were mostly those owing allegiance to former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna including Harak Singh Rawat, Amrita Rawat, Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion, Shaila Rani Rawat, Pradip Batra and Subodh Uniyal, a confirmed Bahuguna loyalist.
"I met him a number of times to impress upon him the need to address the problems of people to remind him of the promises we had made to them and which remained unfulfilled but to no avail," Uniyal said. He said he was offered a ministerial berth on a number of occasions to silence him but "It's not about a ministerial berth it is all about being accountable to people who have elected us."
BJP leaders claimed that the Speaker did not go for a division of votes on the budget as he knew it was bound to fall with a sizeable number of ruling party MLAs all set to cross-vote. Anti-government and pro-BJP slogans were also heard in the Vidhan Sabha corridors with two sides challenging and abusing each other.
There were also reports about security at the Raj Bhawan being tightened with BJP and disgruntled Congress MLAs headed there to contend that the ruling party had been reduced to a minority in the state Assembly. Rebel Congress MLAs led by Rawat's bete noire Bahuguna have been expressing their resentment against the state goverment for some time. BJP leader and Dehradun Mayor Vinod Chamoli said the legislators had been denied their democratic right with the Speaker's refusal not to allow a division of votes in the House.
However Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat claimed that his government was in full majority and warned of disciplinary action the rebels. "We have full majority. All our members are in tact. The figures being touted (about our government's strengh being reduced) are totally wrong," he told reporters here. He said if some Congress MLAs, "being lured" by BJP, are today making any claim, the party would take cognizance of it and "whatever action is taken within the party in such cases will be taken."
Rawat said the party will find out who the rebel Congress MLAs are and "so far, only one face has come to the fore." A three-member BJP delegation, comprising former chief minister and MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, BJP in-charge of Uttarakhand Shyam Jaju and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya met Governor K K Paul tonight and said the Harish Rawat government was in a minority and sought its dismissal. According to Raj Bhavan sources, BJP staked claim to form the government with the support of the rebel Congress MLAs.