Bhopal: Political uncertainty in Madhya Pradesh intensified Sunday, with Governor Lalji Tandon calling for a floor test Monday and the Congress-led Kamal Nath administration readying to dodge it. The BJP, too, was brainstorming all through Sunday to push through with the floor test.
While the Congress has questioned the authority of the governor to call a floor test, saying it was the prerogative of the house, some leaders cited the coronavirus scare to claim it may lead to the adjournment of the assembly and put off the floor test.
Chief Minister Kamal Nath, who held two meetings with party leaders in the wake of the governor’s order, slammed the call for a floor test even as he sought to express confidence about his government’s prospects.
The Madhya Pradesh government has been on tenterhooks since 22 MLAs, including six ministers, rebelled against the ruling Congress and resigned this week. While the resignations of the ministers have been accepted, those of the other MLAs haven’t, creating much buzz around the floor test.
The floor test will help determine whether the Kamal Nath administration still has a majority in the House.
The MP assembly has 230 seats but two are vacant following the death of the incumbents. Before the current political crisis in the state, the Congress had 114 MLAs with the BJP tally standing at 107.
Then, as senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, a former Guna MP, quit the party to join the BJP, 22 MLAs of the Congress resigned too. Six of them were ministers in the Kamal Nath government. The resignation of the six was accepted by the Speaker Saturday. This has effectively reduced the strength of the House to 222 and brought the majority mark to 112.
Congress questions floor test
The budget session of the Madhya Pradesh assembly starts Monday. According to the governor’s letter to Nath, written Saturday night with a copy marked to speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati, the test is to be convened after his speech at the inauguration.
However, Congress leaders said the provision invoked by the governor — Article 175 (2) of the Constitution — to call for a floor test Monday renders it a recommendation, not a direction, which will be taken up by the House for consideration.
The rule states that the governor may send “messages to the House or Houses of the Legislature of the State, whether with respect to a Bill then pending in the Legislature or otherwise, and a House to which any message is so sent shall with all convenient dispatch consider any matter required by the message to be taken into consideration”.
“The governor, under the rule, can definitely send a message, which he has done, but it is the house that has the right under the Constitution to decide on the future course,” said Madhya Pradesh Congress spokesperson Abhay Dubey. “He cannot impose it on the House. Under Article 212 of the Constitution, even the courts cannot inquire into proceedings of the Legislature.”
When asked whether the floor test would take place Monday, Dubey said it will be decided by the speaker.
At a meeting of the Congress legislative party Sunday evening, Nath questioned the constitutionality of holding a floor test when 16 rebel MLAs of the party were not in Bhopal but in Bengaluru, where they have been lodged since the crisis began.
“Our MLAs are not being brought to Bhopal and then we are being asked for a floor test. First give freedom to those MLAs and bring them to Bhopal,” he said. “If 21 MLAs of BJP are held hostage then will that floor test be considered constitutional?” Nath told Congress MLAs.
Emerging out of the cabinet meeting, when asked to comment on the current political scenario in Madhya Pradesh, Nath said “all is well” and flashed a victory sign.
Earlier in the day, Nath had held a meeting with MP Vivek Tankha and Digvijaya Singh where they discussed legal options.
The speculation around the floor test was strengthened as the Vidhan Sabha secretariat issued a list of business for Monday, which only mentioned the governor’s address and a vote of thanks, and nothing about a floor test.
However, constitutional experts said the governor’s directions had to be respected.
Former secretary general of the Lok Sabha and Lok Sabha secretariat, Subhash C. Kashyap said “Article 175 (2)… empowers the governor to send a message to the house and the house is expected to consider it with utmost sincerity or convenient dispatch”.
“The governor’s message deserves the highest respect because he is not only the head of the state but also an integral part of the legislature. The formation of government is not merely a matter of procedure and it depends upon the government enjoying majority support in the house,” he added. “Hence, the governor and not the speaker or CM… takes the final call. If the governor is not satisfied, he can even dissolve the government. Constitutional propriety demands that if the majority of the government is in doubt then the floor test has to be conducted at the earliest.”
PDT Achary, the former ex-officio administrative head of the Lok Sabha secretariat, said “in such a situation, the governor usually gives time and gives a deadline to prove its majority”.
“The governor cannot ask the government to prove majority at their convenience. When the governor is asking for the test to be held tomorrow (Monday), then there is already a presumption that the government does not enjoy majority. The suggestion of the governor cannot be ignored as it is he who summons the assembly,” he added. “Maybe he could have given a little more time but that is all. The letter by the governor in this case is binding even if the time limit is not reasonable.”
Adjournment on the cards?
Even if the letter is indeed binding, Congress leaders said they had a couple of strategies up its sleeve to dodge the floor test.
Sources in the Congress said one strategy is that it will allow the governor’s speech to be read out, following which the assembly will be adjourned.
“There is also a thinking that soon after the governor’s speech, they will take up the budget and even if the BJP creates any disruption they will pass it and then adjourn the house,” said a senior Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh.
According to another party leader, they had sought legal opinion and all options were being explored.
Speaking to ThePrint, a few cabinet ministers suggested that the assembly session may also be adjourned after the governor’s speech on account of the coronavirus threat.
“It is unlikely that the floor test will take place tomorrow. As there is a huge coronavirus scare… and while the Odisha, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Kerala assemblies are getting adjourned, it makes no sense to continue it in Madhya Pradesh. It is a major threat and hence the house may be adjourned on this account too,” said a Congress leader.
State minister for public relations, P.C. Sharma, had said after a cabinet meeting Sunday that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on assembly proceedings will be decided Monday. “The cabinet today discussed how coronavirus outbreak has led to postponement of state assemblies in many states. But whether it should be replicated in Madhya Pradesh will be decided by the house when it meets on Monday.”
The Vidhan Sabha secretariat has a set of preventive measures for coronavirus in place for MLAs attending the budget session. For one, all the MLAs will be provided with a mask and sanitiser.
BJP brainstorms in Delhi
Like the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also spent Sunday chalking out a strategy for the assembly session.
A meeting was held in Delhi that was attended by Union minister and Madhya Pradesh parliamentarian Narendra Singh Tomar, former MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, and fresh recruit Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress to join the BJP this week.
Among other things, the discussions focused on legal options available to the party. According to sources, the issue was discussed with the solicitor general, following which Chouhan left for Madhya Pradesh.
“The Congress will try not to hold the floor test tomorrow and in that scenario we will approach the governor once again and then will take it to the court,” said a senior BJP leader.
“It will take some time but we are sure that we will get relief,” the leader added. When asked to comment on claims that Article 175 (2) is not binding, BJP leader and MLA Narottam Mishra told ThePrint: “Congress can’t decide such things. Let the assembly be held tomorrow. As far as the BJP is concerned we are also exploring all options, including the legal one.”
A section of BJP leaders is said to be upset that the governor did not direct the government to conduct a floor test right after the session begins. “If the existence of the government itself is in question and the governor himself has termed it a minority government, the question of governor’s speech being read out doesn’t arise,” said a senior BJP leader.
According to another BJP leader, the speaker will support the governor’s order. “The fact that they are trying all tactics is a clear indication they have lost majority. The governor has said the floor test should take place tomorrow and we are sure the speaker will also go by it,” said the leader.
Rebel MLAs ‘can’t come to Bhopal’
Over 80 Congress MLAs flown by the party to Jaipur amid an alleged poaching bid by the BJP were brought to Bhopal Sunday and have been put up in hotel Courtyard.
BJP MLAs taken to Manesar were also expected to reach the state capital soon. However, the 16 “rebel” MLAs who are currently in Bengaluru are unlikely to be brought to Bhopal, sources said.
The 16 MLAs wrote a letter to the speaker Sunday evening, asking him to accept their resignations just the way he accepted the resignations of the six ministers.
The letter cites “the current law and order situation in Bhopal and uncertain atmosphere” to say they could not offer their resignation letters in person.
Earlier, Vidhan Sabha speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati had told reporters that, being the custodian of the assembly, he was worried about “my MLAs”.
“Why are they not contacting and communicating with me directly? Being the guardian of the MLAs I am concerned. I am also concerned about the current situation. Even in our state, some symptoms of coronavirus are visible and health is the first priority,” he said.
Soon after the MLAs issued the letter, the state government released a statement, saying the MLAs could avail of CRPF cover, even though the MP police was capable of providing them security.
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