Uttarakhand: Arun Jaitley in the BJP Dock
NEW DELHI: The Uttarakhand government has delivered what the Opposition leaders called a “slap in the face” of the Modi government by striking down the declaration of Presidents rule in the state.
A gleeful Congress camp hailed the decision as the ‘victory of democracy.’ Amongst the first to tweet on the verdict was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal saying, "This is a huge embarrassment to Modi Govt. He shud stop interfering wid elected govts and respect democracy."
The judges were very critical of the centre stating that Presidents rule "should be used as a matter of last resort." The court pointed out that the dismissal of "a democratically elected government breeds cynicism in the heart of citizens". Harish Rawat was reinstated as the Chief Minister of the state with the Court ordering “as you were”, and setting a trust vote for Friday next. A beaming Rawat said, “the truth has won.” Congress workers danced in victory as the re-installed CM declared, “the BJP has become irrelevant.”
The first response from the government came from Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju saying this verdict was, "No embarrassment at all." He instead blamed the Congress for a “constitutional breakdown” insisting that “Presidents rule was not a mistake by the Centre.”
However, the angst within the BJP was visible with fingers being silently pointed towards Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who is credited by his colleagues with decisions concerning the law. In the Uttarakhand case Jaitley was in the forefront justifying the imposing of Presidents rule, and speaking to sections of the media about the divisions within the Congress party, and the solid ground on which the BJP’s case rested. He had said that there was “no better example for invoking Article 356 of the Constitution”.
Jaitley was the face for the government across the media on this issue. He said just after Presidents rule had been imposed on Uttarakhand that there were,“cogent, relevant and extremely important grounds” on which the Union Cabinet decided to make a recommendation to the President to this effect. He lashed out at Rawat for running an “unconstitutional and immoral” government since March 18 when he lost the majority in the Assembly. “There was a complete breakdown of the Constitution in Uttarakhand,” he said. He also spoke at one point of the Rawat versus Vijay Bahuguna feud in the state saying,"In Uttarakhand, there is deep division within the Congress party. If one person is made chief minister of Uttarakhand, the other revolts within the Congress," Arun Jaitley said.
Jaitley is seen by his colleagues as a ‘trusted’ advisor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, largely because of his forte in managing legal issues arising out of political decisions. He was in the forefront, the sources claimed, in bringing Kiran Bedi as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, a move that boomeranged against the party. At that time too, several Delhi BJP leaders blamed him for the wrong decision but without making any dent in his equations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Uttarakhand decision---now seen as a fiasco--- is said to be largely at Jaitley’s prompting, more so as he fronted it with justifications to the media at different levels. He was the one Minister who was authorised to speak on this, and as a Congress leader told The Citizen, “he did give the impression that he knew what he was talking about, and was clear about the legalities as well as the course the government was going to follow.” The court verdict, thus, has come as a major setback with Jaitley being placed effectively in the dock by a section of the party that has not been particularly well disposed towards him.
The last two years of BJP rule in Delhi have been punctuated several times with rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle, emanating from BJP sources, with Jaitley being mentioned as the one Minister to be moved out of Finance into another Ministry. Barely had the court pronounced its verdict, that the same rumour of a Cabinet reshuffle and a ‘demotion’ of sorts for Jaitley have started making the rounds in media circles. Several BJP leaders have hinted at the same to journalists, although of course this could well remain in the realm of speculation. The opposition to Jaitley from within the party also arises from the special equation he clearly enjoys with PM Modi, being the only Minister really authorised to speak on all issues without clearance.
However, given the current state of affairs for the BJP---with the Jat stir in Haryana, the garment workers agitation in Bengaluru, the Patel protests in Gujarat---there are many in the BJP who feel that a reshuffle would give the government a ‘new beginning.’ Uttarakhand is seen as the cherry on the top of a cascading cake of reversals, for even the BJP factions who want to curtail Jaitley’s influence and power within the party and the government.