Nine Congress MLAs, most of them Bahuguna loyalists, rebelled against Harish Rawat and supported BJP’s claim to form a government.
The four-year-old Congress government in Uttarakhand was in a crisis on Friday night with nine party members of legislative assembly raising a banner of revolt and backed the Bharatiya Janata Party which staked claim to form a government.
A three-member BJP delegation comprising former chief minister and MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, BJP in-charge of Uttarakhand Shyam Jaju and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya met Governor K K Paul on Friday night and said the Harish Rawat government was in a minority and sought its dismissal.
According to Raj Bhavan sources, the BJP staked claim to form the government with the support of the rebel Congress MLAs.
The simmering discontent within a section of Congress legislature came to the fore on a day of fast paced developments in the hill state when the nine Congress rebels joined the BJP in the state assembly in demanding a division of votes amid chaos on the state's annual budget that could have led to its fall.
Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal, however, rejected the demand for the division of votes, triggering chaos in the Assembly with both the BJP and rebel Congress MLAs sitting on a dharna in the well of the House to insist on this procedure terming it their democratic right.
The Congress has a strength of 36 MLAs in the 70-member Uttarakhand assembly. The ruling party also has the support of six members of the Progressive Democratic Front, while the BJP has 28 MLAs.
Rejecting the demand by the Opposition, Kunjwal announced passage of the budget by voice vote and adjournment of the House till March 28 before he left his chair in the midst of prevailing din.
The speaker was seen leaving his chair and making an exit even as a mixed group of the BJP and nine rebel Congress MLAs continued to sit on a dharna in the well clamouring for a division of votes on the budget which they said was their democratic right.
Denying the members the right to go for a division of votes on the budget was murder of democracy, BJP leader Umesh Agarwal alleged it was evasive tactics of the state government in the face of sure defeat.
Congress MLA from Rudraprayag Harak Singh Rawat, who was among the nine MLAs seen in the well of the assembly along with opposition BJP MLAs, claimed the finance bill in connection with the budget had fallen in the state assembly in clear indication of the ruling party being reduced to a minority with 35 votes against the budget and just 32 in favour.
He also claimed he had already resigned from the cabinet as a minister because of inaccessibility of the chief minister who was allegedly surrounded by a coterie of advisers who never let party MLAs meet the CM.
Rebel Congress MLAs seen raising anti-government slogans along with the BJP in the House were mostly those owing allegiance to former chief minister and MLA Vijay Bahuguna.
The other eight rebel MLAs were Harak Singh Rawat, Amrita Rawat, Kunwar Pranav Singh Champion, Shaila Rani Rawat, Pradip Batra, Subodh Uniyal, a confirmed Bahuguna loyalist, Shailendra Mohan Singhal and Umesh Sharma.
BJP leaders claimed that the Speaker did not go for a division of votes on the budget as he knew it was bound to fall with a sizeable number of ruling party MLAs all set to cross-vote.
Anti-government and pro-BJP slogans were also heard in the assembly corridors with two sides challenging and abusing each other.
There were also reports about security at the Raj Bhawan being tightened with the BJP and disgruntled Congress MLAs headed there to contend that the ruling party had been reduced to a minority in the state assembly.
Rebel Congress MLAs, led by Rawat’s bete noire Vijay Bahuguna have been expressing their resentment against the government for some time.
BJP leader and Dehradun Mayor Vinod Chamoli said the legislators had been denied their democratic right with the speaker’s refusal not to allow a division of votes in the House.
Subodh Uniyal, known for his loyalty to Bahuguna, said he took the decision to part ways with Rawat as the latter never paid heed to them.
“I met him a number of times to impress upon him the need to address the problems of people to remind him of the promises we had made to them and which remained unfulfilled but to no avail,” Uniyal said.
He said he was offered a ministerial berth on a number of occasions to silence him but ‘It’s not about a ministerial berth it is all about being accountable to people who have elected us.’
Senior BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya, on his way back from Raj Bhawan, said if the governor does not immediately dismiss Harish Rawat’s minority government, they would knock at the doors of the President.
Earlier, packed in a luxury bus, BJP and rebel Congress MLAs numbering 35, went to Raj Bhawan to seek dismissal of Rawat government.
The governor assured the MLAs to look into the constitutional provisions and act accordingly, a Raj Bhawan spokesperson said.
Leader of Opposition Ajay Bhatt, who was in the bus, said 35 MLAs including 26 of BJP and 9 from Congress voted against the budget whereas only 32 from the ruling party voted in its favour causing the related money bill to fall in House.
All 26 BJP MLAs, barring Mussoorie MLA Ganesh Joshi, who has been arrested in Shaktiman case, and sulking legislator Bhim Lal Arya, were present in the House on Friday.
Congress MLA Sarbat Karim Ansari also could not attend the House, which had an effective strength of 67 MLAs.