Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why BJP’s politics of desperation may backfire in Uttarakhand

by Ratnakar Tripathy

After successfully felling the Congress government in Arunachal, the BJP discovered it has another strategy for stretching its area of command – targeting the Congress led states as the low-hanging fruits which are sure to have disgruntled factions raring to unseat their bosses. Poaching on the Congress in the states is a lure too strong to resist these days, is something that goes without saying. Way back it is after all the Congress that fashioned the weapon of president’s rule in states on the slightest pretext. The gains are enormous when compared to efforts that go into a full-fledged assembly election with hundreds of rallies when the PM and other star campaigners descend on the remote constituencies. With five assembly elections in 2016 and another five in 2017, who will have the time for governance? Toppling state governments and taking over seems such a cool shortcut! Given that there is not much traction left in the Congress for an ambitious politician these days, those that stay on must be both admired and pitied for their steadfastness anyway!

Unlike Arunachal however, the over-confident BJP has ended up engineering a mess in Uttarakhand that exceeds all precedents for a constitutional-legal imbroglio. Within days after the dismissal of the Congress government and imposition of president’s rule in Uttarakhand, the dismissed CM Harish Rawat won a case at the High Court on 29th March that gave him a chance to prove his claim to majority on the 31st of this month. In simple words the court’s ruling seemed to challenge the presidential order rather frontally to decide in the favour of a floor test as the ultimate clincher. Thankfully, this judicial ruling got undone soon enough before congealing into a legal dead end as a new bench of the court has now revised the earlier ruling and stayed the floor test till 7th April. With the floor test in abeyance, the new bench has also posted the matter for April 6 for final hearing on a petition challenging imposition of President’s rule in the state by ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat.

With some time on hand, according to the latest reports, Harish Rawat and his cohorts are busy wooing back the nine Congress dissidents who joined hands with the BJP. But the Congress must decide what it wants more – the return of the renegades to the fold, or an annulment by the court of their right to vote during a floor test. The BJP on its part has spirited away its twenty three MLAs to an out of town site where the Congress cannot reach them. So in the next few days, what we have is a political blur where you cannot tell who is poaching and who is being poached on. The challenge the Congress faces is to win its own members back, not an easy task given that the 9-member breakaway team is headed by Vijay Bahuguna, a former CM who was eased out after the scandalous mismanagement of the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand. Bahuguna naturally holds a grudge most of which is directed personally at Harish Rawat.  To update matters further, Uttarakhand Congress president Kishore Upadhyay is reported to be in constant touch with Mr Vijay Bahuguna. The minimum agenda is to ensure that the nine members abstain from voting whenever the floor test takes place, a far-fetched possibility. But Harish Rawat may offer to step down as CM as a conciliatory gesture which sounds like a more concrete gain for the disgruntled former CM Bahuguna.

At any rate the most outstanding fact here is that Uttarakhand is due for its assembly elections in 2017. If the BJP waited patiently till 2017 for the scheduled assembly elections in Uttarakhand, it would have had a good chance of winning. With growing internal dissensions among factions within the Congress in the state, the disgruntled elements led by the former CM Vijay Bahuguna may have joined the BJP as part of a gentler drift, perhaps triggering further defections from the Congress. Instead, the Congress government under Harish Rawat as CM was dissolved without much thought and president’s rule imposed in great haste without giving the incumbent government in Uttarakhand a chance to prove its majority on 28th March, as earlier decided by the governor of the state. One can understand the desperation of Vijay Bahuguna who was made to resign as the Uttarakhand CM after the 2013 floods in the state that were allegedly mismanaged by him. But the unholy haste shown by the BJP is likely to win oodles of sympathy for the Congress, whether deserved or undeserved, from the voter in the 2017 assembly elections. The BJP may have thus succeeded in undoing any anti-incumbency sentiments faced by the Congress government in Uttarakhand. This could be a favour the Congress may be thankful for in the long run. This irrespective of whether Rawat wins the floor test after 6th April, if such a test happens at all. 

In fact such are the serendipitous breaks that the Congress badly needs these days. Out of the five states going for assembly elections in 2016 [West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Pondicherry] and five in 2017[Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur], the BJP is unable to see a sure win ahead and is increasingly exhibiting symptoms of nervousness in speech and incoherence in its actions.

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