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February 26, 1998


Kalyan Singh wins floor test

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

After a day-long battle of the ballot, Kalyan Singh consolidated his position as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, winning the unique composite floor test in the state Vidhan Sabha by a wide margin of 29 votes on Thursday night.

Kalyan Singh polled 225 votes as against the 196 garnered by Jagadambika Pal, thereby bringing to an end the six-day-old political drama that began when the 22-member Loktantrik Congress withdrew support to the Kalyan Singh government last Saturday.

Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari summarily dismissed the Kalyan Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party government, and appointed Loktantrik Congress leader Jagdambika Pal chief minister.

Thursday's floor test came in the wake of the judicial intervention after the Allahabad high court reinstated Kalyan Singh. The Supreme Court had on February 24 rejected a plea by Jagdambika Pal to intervene and directed the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha to carry out a floor test in a manner that was unprecedented in Indian constitutional history. The test involved each member casting a vote declaring his support to either candidate and signing on the ballot paper.

The exercise commenced at 1100 hours IST and concluded at about 2000 hours when Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi declared the result after the counting of the ballot papers.

"In all, 422 votes were cast, but one member deviated from the prescribed procedure and instead of signing on the ballot paper, he put a tick mark against Kalyan Singh's name. Therefore, I am not counting it," the speaker said. Out of a total of 425 members, two did not turn up, while one seat is vacant following the resignation of the member. The speaker did not exercise his right to vote as per tradition.

The results sent BJP leaders and workers into a frenzy. Kalyan Singh was mobbed by his supporters while he was waiting in the heavily guarded corridors outside the assembly hall. His supporters garlanded him while cries of "Kalyan Singh zindabad" rent the air. Crackers were burst and BJP workers danced with joy and sprinkled colours on each other in the party office across the assembly building.

A jubilant Kalyan Singh told mediapersons, "This is a triumph of democracy; a victory of the Indian Constitution.

"I had maintained all along that we would not merely pass this test but would go beyond the 222 votes gained in the previous vote of confidence in October," he stated, "And we have done it."

Exuding confidence, he declared, "Now that we have emerged stronger than before, I can tell you very safely that we will last a full term; and the political instability that had hit the state for a while will now come to an end."

Asked whether he had won because of the speaker's dilatory tactics vis-a-vis the 12 Bahujan Samaj Party defectors whose fate under the anti-defection law had yet to be decided, Kalyan shot back, "In this election, it was not the parties but individuals who voted cutting across party lines."

Kalyan Singh also reiterated his demand for the "immediate recall of Governor Romesh Bhandari."

His rival, Jagdambika Pal, has refused to recognise Singh's victory. "This is a farce because it has been achieved through dirty practices; the use of moneybags and horse-trading," he said on emerging from the assembly hall after the nine-hour ordeal.

"I will put up all this before the Supreme Court when it resumes hearing on the case tomorrow," he added.

Tripathi had last night expressed apprehensions about the possibility of violence during the special session. He made no bones about focusing his suspicion on Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, who had taken the lead in the violence that rocked the state assembly in October when Kalyan Singh sought a vote of confidence in the House.

The proceedings began on a stormy note with Pramod Tiwari, Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party), and Leader of the Opposition Dhani Ram Verma (Samajwadi Party) raising a noise about "the speaker's partisan role." However, much to everyone's surprise, the proceedings went off smoothly and peacefully.

Tripathi carried on with the voting exercise stating: "I will go strictly by the Supreme Court order and not allow any speeches or any other activity except voting in the House today." And he did right so immediatey after the House finished the recital of Vande Mataram.

Since unprecedented situations warrant novel arrangements, the speaker invited both Pal and Singh to be seated on special chairs placed on either side of the speaker's podium. A large wooden ballot box, duly thrown open for inspection by all and also overturned on Mayawati's insistence, was placed below the podium, while members were called in batches of five (in the serial order of the constituencies) to cast their vote on the ballot paper bearing names of the two claimants.

Obviously knowing the legislators only too well, the speaker had the ballot box chained to a table so that no one could snatch it away. And as part of the revised security exercise, all microphones in the sprawling majestic circular assembly hall were removed -- to avoid them being used as missiles, as was done last October.

Entry was restricted only to the MLAs, personnel on duty, and the media. No one was allowed to carry mobile phones, pagers, briefcases, and even file covers (which as experience has shown, could be used as missiles).

However, what perhaps compelled restraint on the part of the members was the sword of Damocles hanging over them in the form of the Supreme Court order: "Violence in any form will be taken serious note of." With the entire proceedings recorded on video, even those who consider themselves as a law unto themselves, chose discretion as the better part of valour.

In a significant development which took place during the vote, the speaker relented to the Opposition demand that the five BSP legislators, currently detained under the National Security Act, be brought in for casting their votes.

The chief minister has dismissed the Opposition charges of horse-trading and misuse of official machinery in garnering support as "baseless" and said the members of the Vidhan Sabha had been guided by their conscience.

He has not ruled out the possibility of having a deputy chief minister. "We have just won the majority; all such things will be taken up later," he told the media which he met after the vote.

Singh admitted that the legislators of other parties had voted in his favour, and said today's trial of strength was not a contest between parties but for support among members.

Jagdambika Pal has charged Kalyan Singh with winning over the rebel legislators by threatening to get them disqualified from the membership of the House.

"It was because of this reason I had persistently been demanding that the speaker must pronounce his verdict in the case of the twelve rebel BSP legislators before the test," Pal said.

Former chief minister and BSP leader Mayawati echoed similar sentiments of the issue of rebel legislators of his party.

Governor Romesh Bhandari, in a message to Kalyan Singh, greeted the chief minister for winning the majority on the floor of the house.

After Speaker Tripathi announced that he was commencing the voting, the House bell kept ringing for five minutes. And all doors leading to the House were closed. The speaker showed the ballot box to the members before asking the BJP's Sandeep Agrawal and Satya Prakash Vikal to cast their votes. The two legislators were called to cast their votes out of turn because of their indisposition.

Only five members are being allowed to cast their vote at a time.

Earlier, as the speaker took up the relevant motion for voting, Dhani Ram Verma drew the presiding officer's attention to the fact that only Kalyan Singh was occupying the chief minister's seat. He asked why a chair has not been provided for the other contender.

Pal had to sit in the second last row in the Opposition benches in the Vidhan Sabha before the 'composite floor test'. He entered the House just after Kalyan Singh and like his rival contender greeted everyone.

Pal was saved further embarrassment when just before the commencement of the voting, the speaker invited him and Singh to sit on his either side. Singh sat on a chair placed on the right side of the speaker, Pal was seated on the left.

Verma also wanted the speaker to pronounce his verdict in the case of disqualification of 12 BSP legislators before continuing the proceedings. The rebel BSP legislators voted for the Kalyan Singh government in October.

The speaker told Verma that, since the voting was being conducted through open ballot, everybody would know whom the 12 rebel BSP legislators had cast their votes for.

He said the House could not force him to pronounce his verdict in the case, which he had heard till late night and reserved his ruling.

Noisy scenes prevailed in the House for a few minutes. Subsequently, the speaker read out the Supreme Court's order which had emphasised that the proceedings of the House should be totally peaceful and disturbances, if any, would be viewed seriously.

Verma then urged the speaker to leave his chair, saying the apex court had expressed apprehensions about his conduct.

The speaker said the votes of legislators who cast their votes in favour of both contenders will not be counted. He also said that no separate seating arrangements could be made for the rebel BSP legislators.

The speaker also rejected the objection raised by the Opposition members about the ministers's name plates being displayed on the seats they were occupying. As the Kalyan Singh government had been reinstated by the high court, placing of the ministers's nameplates could not be objected to, Tripathi ruled.

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