NEW DELHI: The Congress Party’s Harish Rawat, who was Chief Minister of Uttarakhand till the Centre imposed President’s Rule on march 27, will be seeking a trust vote at the state assembly on May 10. The latest developments give Rawat an advantage, as the Uttarakhand High Court passed a judgement barring nine party dissidents from the vote.

Tuesday’s vote of confidence was ordered by the Supreme Court last week, which also maintained that the nine dissident lawmakers would not be eligible to vote as they were disqualified by the Speaker. The Uttarakhand High Court’s verdict on the dissident’s plea against the disqualification by the Speaker was awaited to see how the numbers would stack up.

With the High Court order, the 70-member Uttarakhand assembly’s strength in 61. This means that Rawat needs the support of 31 members. The disqualified MLAs have moved the Supreme Court to get a stay on the High Court order.

President’s Rule was imposed in Uttarakhand under Article 356 on March 27, after the Centre cited “breakdown of governance” following the defection of nine Congress MLAs. The Congress immediately cried foul, with Rawat dramatically declaring that the BJP-led central government had been "thirsty for my blood since day one.”

The developments, from the start, have been an exercise in public chicanery, with both the BJP and the Congress party’s action reviving a debate on the propriety of Article 356. The BJP on its part, has been accused of supporting the defection, with former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Rajinder Sachar penning an article in The Citizen that describes the BJP’s actions as arising from “their lust for power are willing[ness] to break all moral rules.” “Let me quote what an MLA should do if he is going to join another party. In 1946, Acharya Narendra Dev ( of the Socialist Party) was a Congress MLA from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. When the Socialist Party decided to come out of the Congress, Acharyaji, whom Gandhiji had even wanted to take over as the Congress President, without any hesitation resigned his seat , fought the election again on the Socialist Party ticket, and lost,” Justice Sachar writes.

The Congress on its part made the mistake of not relying on the Anti Defection law, which provides an easier course by bringing in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution which provides that: A Member of a house belonging to any political party shall be disqualified for being a member of the house:

a) If he votes or abstains from voting in such house contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs…..Thus if rebel Congress MLAs had voted against the budget or even abstained they would have been legitimately disqualified.

b) Further clause 9 provides that a decision of Speaker shall be final. Further clause bars the jurisdiction of the Court. But now things have gone beyond the Speaker. Disqualification after President’s rule is a nullity, apart from the fact that no voting in the Assembly was allowed by the Speaker, and hence no charge against Bahuguna and others for defection can be leveled against them.

Instead, the Congress party convinced the Speaker to disqualify the defected MLAs only after the imposition of President’s rule.

The matter was of course taken to court, and a single judge without issuing notice to the central government passed an ex-parte order fixing the date for a floor test to be held in the Assembly. The order was stayed.

In another development, following a petition filed by Rawat, the Uttarakhand High Court on April 21 quashed the order imposing President’s Rule in the state by the Centre. In the order, the bench of Chief Justice K M Joseph and Justice V K Bist said that the imposition of President’s Rule in the state “undermines the foundation of federalism” and “toppling of a democratically elected government… breeds cynicism in the hearts of citizens who participate in a democratic system.” As per the order, Rawat was to resume his role as Chief Minister, and a floor test was directed to take place on April 29.

The Centre immediately moved the Supreme Court, which then stayed the High Court order on April 22. A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh explained the move as “more on propriety than legality” as “you don’t revoke President’s rule just like that. Everything has to be looked into…a balance has to be struck.”

The High Court had pronounced the order a day earlier, as the bench headed by Chief Justice K M Joseph dictated its judgment in the open court but said the written judgment would be made available only next week. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi contended that this was improper, and that Rawat moved to “steal a march” by taking 11 decisions after calling a Cabinet meeting without an official copy of the judgement being made available to the Centre.

Following the AGs plea, the Supreme Court concluded that in a matter as serious as President’s rule, a written judgment should have been made available immediately after the pronouncement, or the operation of the judgment could be deferred. Hence, the High Court order was stayed, and President’s Rule was upheld.

Last week, the Supreme Court fixed the floor test for May 10. The High Court’s decision to not allow the nine defected MLA to participate is a major boost for the Congress party. Before the defection, the Congress had 36 members supported by 6 independent MLAs (total 42). After 9 Congress MLAs led by Bahuguna formed a separate group and announced their intention to vote against Chief Minister Harish Rawat, the Congress’ majority came into question with the floor test being ordered. The decision to disqualify the nine defected MPs from voting means that the Congress will need only 31 votes, as the assembly’s strength has been reduced from 70 to 61.

However, at the time of writing, the Centre moved the Supreme Court seeking modification on the order of the floor test, saying the official concerned has refused to act as observer on the ground that a clarification is needed on his designation. PTI reports that Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi mentioned the matter before a Bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh while submitting that its May 6 order had mentioned the designation of the official as Principal Secretary(Legislative Assembly) which needs to be corrected to Principal Secretary (Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs).

The AG told the Bench that the official concerned, who is of the rank of district judge, has written to the Centre that he would not act as observer unless a clarification comes from the apex court. Senior advocates Abhishek Manusinghvi and Kapil Sibal, appearing for sacked Chief Minister Harish Rawat, opposed the plea of the Centre on the ground that the Principal Secretary (Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs) is a non-cadre post and no outsider can be allowed to participate in the proceedings of the House. Sibal said the post of Principal Secretary (Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs) comes under the state government.

The Bench said it will take up the matter up post noon today.