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'The BJP has behaved disgracefully'

Last updated on: March 29, 2016 15:26 IST

'This is about demolishing all that we have stood for as a nation after Independence. This is an attack on the nation's very foundation.'

A BJP delegation from Uttarakhand marching to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

IMAGE: Members of a BJP delegation and party MLAs from Uttarakhand march from Vijay Chowk to meet President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet's decision to dismiss the Harish Rawat-led government and push for President's Rule in Uttarakhand took the Congress by surprise.

A visibly upset Congress General Secretary Ambika Soni, who is in charge of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, launched a diatribe at the Bharatiya Janata Party for not allowing the Rawat government to undergo a floor test in the Uttarkhand assembly on March 28.

Soni spoke to Rashme Sehgal.

Would you say the BJP has flouted democratic norms in imposing President's Rule in the state?

That's putting it mildly. The BJP has behaved disgracefully. But this is not about good or bad behaviour within our outside Parliament. This is about violating the Constitution and demolishing all democratic practices.

It is about demolishing all that we have stood for as a nation after Independence. This is an attack on the nation's very foundation.

Twenty four hours before the floor test was to take place, they go ahead and impose President's Rule in the state. We were told to prove our majority on the floor of the assembly on March 28. And yet, on March 27 they impose President's Rule.

Where has this happened in any democracy in the world?

But your Chief Minister Harish Rawat (below, left) was accused of trying to 'buy' MLAs.

What a nonsensical allegation to presume that our chief minister was trying to buy MLAs! Which MLA have we bought?

On the contrary, the BJP herded these nine MLAS into a specially chartered aircraft and flew them from Dehra Dun to Delhi from where they were held captive in the 7-star Leela Hotel in Gurgaon.

Civil Aviation Minister Mahesh Sharma organised the aircraft. He flew into Dehra Dun and took the dissidents with him.

The dissident MLAs would not have lost their membership, but they were made to sign a joint memorandum for a common cause.

The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment in 1994 in the S R Bommai case emphasised that the majority enjoyed by any government has to be tested on the floor of the House.

In this case, Uttarakhand Governor K K Paul had set the date of March 28 for conduct of the floor test. Why would he impose central rule a day before the vote was to be held?

There was also the issue of the finance bill.

The CM had informed the governor that he had 32 legislators including five members of the Progressive Democratic Front with him. The finance bill was passed by a voice vote in the assembly. Even 2,000 Arun Jaitleys cannot change this.

There is also the allegation of a sting operation against Rawat.

This so-called sting operation was done by someone belonging to a little known Hindi channel.

I saw the cassette in the afternoon which showed Rawat sitting in the airport and there was someone -- a man or it could be a woman, since we never saw the person's face. But there was no voice. The CM was looking very relaxed.

By the evening, a voice had been added. It was obvious it had been doctored.

My question is: Has President's Rule been applied because of the sting operation? The Constitution envisages that the Centre needs to have strong grounds to impose President's Rule. When nothing else succeeds, then President's Rule needs to be imposed.

It is obvious that the BJP led by Amit Shah wants to live up to his words of a Congress mukt (without) country.

See what happened in Bihar and Delhi. They realise they cannot win elections, which is why they are resorting to all these unfair practices.

The Congress recently lost power in Arunachal Pradesh. Your party's governments in Manipur and Himachal Pradesh are also very vulnerable.

We are aware of the situation. We know what is happening. This started in Arunachal and it is going to continue.

Harish RawatWhen you are aware of this vulnerability, then why did the Congress leadership not handle the dissidents within your party?

I know there were rumblings within our party, but which party, and especially a huge one like ours, does not have such rumblings?

I know when Vijay Bahuguna was removed from the chief ministership it would have caused some heartburn. He had some demands of his own. Things go on like this and then things get sorted out.

There were nine dissidents from which seven were not constant. That is what management of a party is all about.

In this case these dissidents were kept as hostages with the cry being given of saving Uttarakhand. The BJP was fishing in troubled waters. I would like to ask why was former BJP CM Ramesh Pokhriyal removed? Why were their earlier three CMs removed in this state?

The dissidents wanted to speak to the Congress high command and were not able to discuss matters with them.

I am not abrogating responsibility. There are always some elements who are disgruntled within every party. You try to appease some... put others in their place. The CMs have the power. Who they want, which ministers they want after clearance from the party high command. But ultimately this is an internal party affair.

Would you say you were caught unawares?

No, I will not say that. We knew what was going on. We were prepared for a vote on the floor of the House.

Another accusation against you is that after the Congress was sworn into power, you seldom visited the state.

That is not correct. I have been going there again and again. I was there to attend a coordination meeting with Sonia Gandhi six weeks ago of which Vijay Bahuguna was also a member.

It seems surprising that Bahuguna, whose sister is a well known Congress leader, is willing to join hands with the BJP.

You should ask him this question. All I can say is it is not easy. He was a CM and then he was removed. He was nursing (this grudge) within his heart

But there is the issue of Rahul Gandhi's inaccessibility.

Rahul leads from the front as was seen in Parliament. Let me tell you the BJP are not enjoying their lives. The Congress is giving them a run for their money.

You are also the party in charge for Punjab. What are the Congress chances in that state?

Captain Amarinder Singh has been given responsibility for Punjab. He is one of the most charismatic and trusted leaders of the party. Everyone knows what the Akalis have done to the state in the last 10 years. They (people) are nostalgic for him and would like him back.

Rashme Sehgal