Congress MLAs returned from Jaipur to Bhopal on Sunday. (PTI photo)
With the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker striking a defiant note, there was no clarity if the floor test ordered by the Governor would take place on Monday, the first day of the Budget Session of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, even as the fate of the 15-month-old Kamal Nath-led Congress government hung in the balance.
In a late night letter to Chief Minister Kamal Nath on Saturday, Governor Lalji Tandon had said that prima facie he was convinced that the Congress government was in minority and to “protect democratic principles’’, Nath must win the trust of the House immediately after the Governor’s address on Monday. “The proceedings will begin on Monday and in every circumstance will not be cancelled, delayed or suspended,’’ the Governor said while asking that voting should be by division, not by a voice vote, and must be recorded by engaging an independent videographer.
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Speaker N P Prajapati on Sunday, however, dubbed as “hypothetical” a question on whether the trust vote would take place on Monday, and added he would reveal only on Monday if the Governor has the power to order a floor test. “I am more concerned about the spread of coronavirus,’’ he said, after asserting, “Kalpanik sawal hai, trust vote hoga ki nahi (Whether the trust vote will happen or not is a hypothetical question). Only tomorrow will I spell out whether the Governor can order a floor test.’’
Late Sunday evening, the Vidhan Sabha secretariat issued Monday’s list of business, mentioning only the Governor’s address and the motion of thanks to the Governor’s address, with no word on the trust vote.
The Speaker’s reply came amid speculation that the Congress government would use the coronavirus spread to avoid or postpone the trust vote despite repeated demands by the Opposition BJP and the Governor’s letter to the CM. The letter was issued around midnight, hours after a BJP delegation, including former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargava, called on him with a request to ensure that the Congress government does not use any “excuse” to avoid taking the floor test.
Around midnight, CM Nath met the Governor and while leaving Raj Bhavan, told the media that they discussed how the Assembly could function peacefully. He said he would meet the Speaker on Monday morning to discuss the peaceful conduct of the House. However, when asked about floor test, he said he was ready for one but stayed non-committal, saying the Speaker would take a call on it.
Earlier, while addressing the Congress legislative party meeting at his residence, CM Nath said, “We will emerge victorious from this challenge created immorally and unconstitutionally by the BJP. We are together and our morale to protect democratic values is high.’’
Nath chaired a Cabinet meeting in the afternoon on coronavirus but did not take any call on a plea to either postpone or cancel the scheduled Assembly session.
Governor Tandon shot off another letter to the CM on Sunday, saying votes during the floor test should be recorded only by raising of hands because the electronic voting system in the state assembly is not functional. The governor’s letter followed a plea to that effect by the Opposition BJP.
BJP sources did not rule out party approaching the courts to demand a floor test at the earliest. “Yes, court is one of the options before us if they don’t carry out a floor test at the earliest,” said a BJP source in Delhi.
While maintaining he was confident that his 15-month-old government would sail through when the floor test happens, the CM on Sunday said the decision on a trust vote was the Speaker’s prerogative.
On Sunday, the ruling Congress legislators, who had been taken to Jaipur a few days ago, returned to Bhopal and were taken to a hotel, closer to the Vidhan Sabha premises. They were examined by doctors and were slated to reach the CM House for a Congress legislative party meeting.
The BJP’s legislators, who have been taken to Gurugram, and the 22 rebel Congress legislators and Congress-turned-BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia’s loyalists, who are believed to be in Bengaluru, are yet to reach Bhopal. The Speaker had asked the rebel legislators, who had sent in their resignations through a former BJP minister, to appear before him by Sunday to let him verify if they had resigned voluntarily or under duress. None of them turned up. On Saturday, he accepted the resignations of six legislators, who were ministers in the Kamal Nath Cabinet.
After the six resignations were accepted, the strength of the 230-member House has come down to 222 after accounting for two vacancies caused by death. The BJP has 107 members and the Congress 108. Both parties have issued whips to their members. The Samajwadi Party has asked its lone member to vote for the Congress. There are four Independents and two BSP MLAs.