On March 16–the first day of the budget session of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha–state governor Lalji Tandon issued a directive to hold a floor test in the assembly. This was expected to settle the all-important issue of whether the beleaguered Kamal Nath government enjoys a majority in the house or not. However, with Speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati adjourning the House till March 25 in view of the spread of coronavirus, the Bharatiya Janata Party moved the Supreme Court seeking a floor test within 12 hours. This special leave petition was filed by former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and nine other MLAs.
On March 10, 22 Congress MLAs, most of whom owe their allegiance to former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, resigned, pushing Nath’s government, as per the claims of the BJP, into a minority. The state assembly currently has 222 of 230 MLAs, with the majority mark being 112. The Congress has 108 MLAs in the House and the support of seven Independent MLAs. If resignations of all 22 MLAs are accepted, the Congress’s strength will fall below the new majority mark of 104, and the BJP, with 107 MLAs, will be in a position to form the government.
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The rebel MLAs are currently holed up at a Bengaluru resort under police protection. As of now, the resignations of only six of the 22 MLAs have been accepted by the Speaker, who insists he will take a call on the remaining resignations once he meets them in person. The Congress has claimed the MLAs are being kept at the resort against their wishes and not even their family members are allowed to meet them. Videos of the MLAs, in which many of them are seen being prompted to say certain lines, are being fed to the media regularly but the legislators themselves are incommunicado.
Tandon had written to Nath on Saturday, asking him to prove his majority in the House on March 16, to which Nath responded in writing, informing Tandon that the issues in the House were within the domain of the Speaker. The petition filed by the BJP is part of the party’s strategy to seek judicial intervention to have a floor test organised–a move that was planned on Sunday during a meeting held in Delhi between BJP leaders and the party’s top legal advisors. The petition will be heard on Tuesday.
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The Congress, which has also rushed its legal team to Delhi, will demand the release and return of their MLAs to Bhopal to meet the Speaker. The party will likely furnish and present evidence in the form of photographs of BJP leaders with the MLAs, the aircrafts that were used to ferry them to Bengaluru and the local police preventing Congress leaders from meeting them. The hope right now for Congress is that some of the MLAs would change their minds once they meet the CM and Speaker. The BJP, however, wants to prevent exactly that. The BJP, worried about cross-voting, had kept its own MLAs at a Manesar resort for the last five days as well, while the Congress had sent their MLAs to Jaipur amid fears of being poached by the saffron party.
According to the BJP strategist, Tandon’s letter is meant to act as a warning, and possibly an indication that the Union government could impose President’s rule in the state, keeping the assembly in suspended animation in case the floor test doesn’t happen. Even if this option is exercised by the Centre, the Congress is likely to petition the court on grounds that the Speaker’s authority in the house is undisputed. Insiders also point to an ongoing tussle for leadership within the BJP. While one group wants to form the government by securing a mandate for trust vote by the Supreme Court, another group is in favour of President’s rule on grounds that the present government has lost its majority. Possibilities are immense.
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