The political crisis in Uttarakhand finally, and inevitably, >reached Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday , with Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party delegations separately seeking President Pranab Mukherjee’s attention. The BJP has demanded the dismissal of the Congress’ Harish Rawat government, arguing that it has lost its majority, and questioning the role of Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal in refusing a division of the vote on the State Budget. The party claims it now has the support of 36 MLAs in the 70-member Assembly, including of nine rebel Congress MLAs. The Congress party, in turn, charged the BJP with using “unconstitutional means”, and expressed apprehensions about the Centre imposing President’s Rule in the State. As the timeline holds, Mr. Rawat has to >prove his majority in the House by March 28 . Meanwhile, the Speaker has given the nine rebel MLAs time till March 26 to reply to notices asking them to show cause why they should not lose their membership of the Assembly under the Anti-Defection Act. The Congress has also >expelled its former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna’s son , who is leading the revolt. The spark for the rebellion is linked to the spoils of office. Mr. Bahuguna reportedly wanted ministerial posts for his loyalists, portfolios that are currently held by members of the Progressive Democratic Front, which has a total of six seats in the House and supports the Congress.
With this, Uttarakhand unfortunately faces a new phase of political uncertainty. It was created out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 after a long grass-roots level struggle for statehood to meet the unique administrative needs of the Himalayan region. The State’s composite character demands genuine, responsive politics to bind the 13 districts into an organic whole. Indeed, party politics, as contrasted with the social coalition that won the statehood, is still a work in progress in crafting the balance and depth to keep the different regions and constituencies on board. Both the BJP and the Congress, during their respective stints in power, have struggled to paper over intra-party rivalries. In the case of the Congress, it has finally spilled over into outright rebellion. Mr. Rawat had been seen to be the front runner for the chief ministership after the 2012 Assembly elections, when the Congress high command airdropped Mr. Bahuguna, perceived to be a Gandhi family loyalist. Two years later, he was replaced by Mr. Rawat. Now, the ambit of the Anti-Defection Act is being tested in ways that could influence — and nastily so — the campaign for the next Assembly elections, due by early 2017. It is important that lessons in propriety from the recent experience in Arunachal Pradesh be learnt and the sanctity of the office of Governor be protected. It is not clear how much of the Uttarakhand rebellion has been extraneously engineered and how much of it draws from the Congress’ lax political management. Either way, the Centre needs to handle the situation with a light touch, and it must wait out the vote of confidence sought by the Governor.