Madhya Pradesh: Three options for Kamal Nath to halt BJP-Scindia “coup”
Jyotiraditya Scindia has left the Congress party in the lurch. Fearing further “horse-trading”, the Congress has shifted its remaining MLAs to Jaipur. But is that enough to save the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh?
The Maharaja has left the Congress high and dry in Madhya Pradesh. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit from the Congress, and subsequently joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has threatened the survival of the 15-month-old Kamal Nath government.
On Wednesday, Scindia, while joining the BJP, said that the Congress’ central leadership was apathetic towards those working for the party. He also alleged that the Kamal Nath government had failed to deliver on the poll promises made in the run-up for the 2018 MP assembly election.
Interestingly, Scindia had served the party for 18 years and was a union minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, he was made the general secretary of Uttar Pradesh along with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Scindia’s comments resulted in the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi breaking his silence on the attempts at toppling the MP government. The two scions - Gandhi and Scindia - were known to be good friends. Despite this, Gandhi failed to avert the crisis.
Scindia’s exit had activated his faction within the Congress party. Nearly 22 Congress legislators have resigned from the party.
The Scindia camp moved them to Bengaluru – the capital of a state governed by the BJP. Meanwhile, the saffron party has gathered all its MP legislators in a hotel in Manesar, Haryana, which is also a BJP governed state. Notably, the Congress party has shifted its remaining MLAs to Jaipur, Rajasthan. The Chief Minister and senior Congress leader, Ashok Gehlot, has been tasked with managing the affairs in Jaipur.
Moreover, this commotion also means that Kamal Nath is running a minority government. If the Congress fails to pull out a surprise then their days in MP are numbered. Here are the three options that are left with the Kamal Nath government.
The Speaker can refuse to accept resignations of rebel MLAs or disqualify them
The MP speaker NP Prajapati is most likely to become the most important political figure and office bearer in the state in the coming days. His office can prove useful to the Congress party by buying them some time, which would then enable them to explore other options to stay in power.
Kamal Nath was running a government in Madhya Pradesh with a thin majority. Of 230 seats, the Congress had managed to win 114 seats in the 2018 assembly polls. Two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLAs, one Samajwadi Party MLA, and four independent candidates had extended their support to the Congress, and its numbers in the house had swelled to 121.
After the resignation of 22 legislators, the Congress’ own numbers have gone down to 92. If these resignations are accepted by the MP assembly speaker NP Prajapati, the tenure of Kamal Nath is most definitely over.
If the resignations are accepted, the new majority mark will be 105. And this is what the MP assembly will look like:
If the MP assembly speaker, NP Prajapati refuses to accept the resignations of the 22 MLAs from the Scindia camp, then Kamal Nath can continue to hold the fort. At least for a while.
In this situation, the Chief Minister can seek a trust vote and the Congress can issue a whip asking all its legislators to vote for the party. A whip of the party is binding on its elected members. If they defy the whip, they cease to exist as members of the house. The commotion for a trust vote would also give an opportunity to the Congress party to get in touch with its rebels and try to rein them in.
However, this is a tried and tested method which failed miserably to avert the debacle in Karnataka. The BJP, through its infamous Operational Kamalam 2.0, had toppled the JDS-Congress government in July 2019. A bunch of Janata Dal-Secular and Congress MLAs had resigned from their memberships. The Karnataka speaker Ramesh Kumar had refused to accept the resignations of the rebel JDS-Congress MLAs. The rebels had approached the Supreme Court against the speaker’s decision.
HD Kumaraswamy had failed to prove his majority during the floor test in July 2019 and the JDS-Congress were ousted from power by the BJP.
Taking a cue from the former Karnataka assembly speaker Ramesh Kumar, the MP assembly speaker Prajapati too can disqualify the rebel MLAs and lay a term of disqualification. That would mean that these MLAs cannot re-contest the elections until the term is over. However, the legal precedence in this case is not in favour of the Congress. The Supreme Court had upheld the disqualification of 17 Karnataka rebel MLAs but had struck down the term disqualification.
Moreover, the term disqualification will not enable the Congress to clinch the majority in the house. The risk of losing the trust vote would remain.
Reverse Operational Kamalam
The BJP had toppled the HD Kumaraswamy-led Karnataka government by executing its plan called Operational Kamalam. The sitting Congress and JDS MLAs – who had switched their loyalties to the BJP – were made to resign from the house. This meant that the majority mark of the house was reduced, and the JDS-Congress alliance fell short of the new halfway mark.
The saffron party has repeated a Karnataka in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress’s top leadership is accusing the BJP of indulging in “horse-trading”. Rajasthan CM Gehlot had lambasted the BJP for their alleged attempts at “buying” the Congress MLAs in MP.
To counter this “horse-trading”, the Congress can resort to reverse Operational Kamalam. If the Congress succeeds in getting in touch with the BJP legislators and convinces them to switch loyalties, the saffron party’s own fort will be under threat. It would further reduce the majority mark of the assembly and the BJP could lose its edge.
However, the BJP seems to be on its toes. MP BJP MLAs have been shifted to a hotel in Manesar, Haryana. Reaching out to them and convincing them to switch loyalties looks like a mammoth task right now, especially considering the kind of resources and manpower at the BJP’s disposal under the leadership of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and JP Nadda.
Shah himself has been instrumental in getting Scindia on board. On Wednesday noon, BJP chief JP Nadda got Scindia inducted into the party, and later in the evening his name featured as the BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate from Madhya Pradesh. Hence, it is very unlikely that they would leave any stone unturned to maintain the trust of their own legislators.
Avoid Floor Test, Buy Time
The MP CM Kamal Nath has made it clear that the Congress will go for a trust vote in the MP assembly and that they are confident of winning it. However, considering the odds against the Congress, the best option for them would be to defer a trust vote as much as possible. This could be done by using the Speaker’s office to its full potential and exploring legal options.
Deferring a trust vote will enable them to buy extra time. It could tire out the opposition camp and create confusion in the rebel MLAs. The Congress leadership can reach out to their rebels and rein them in.
That would avert the entire political crisis or the deadlock in MP. A coup was attempted by the BJP in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in order to form the government in Maharashtra. NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar was given the Deputy CM’s office to bring in the support of the NCP MLAs.
However, when senior Pawar swung into action, the rebel NCP legislators returned to the party’s fold. The attempted coup in the NCP fell on its face, and the Congress, NCP, and Shiv Sena managed to form the government in Maharashtra.
But in order to perform this impossible stunt, the Congress needs its own version of Sharad Pawar. The question is: do they have one?