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Mulayam loses face in court, but poll-wary rivals shirk House battle
BJP leader Lalji Tandon and Mulayam Singh Yadav at the Vidhan Sabha (PTI)

Lucknow/New Delhi, Feb. 28: In a majority decision, Allahabad High Court today ruled the Bahujan Samaj Party split in 2003 illegal but gave the Mulayam Singh Yadav government a breather by stopping short of disqualifying the 40 defectors.

The three-judge bench, whose decision was split 2-1, left it to the Speaker to decide on disqualification, allowing Mulayam to bring a confidence motion in the Assembly and win it with the group of 40 voting for him.

An Opposition boycott of the vote ' joined by the Congress, which supports the government from outside ' set up a 207-0 result.

The day’s events left the Congress and the BJP on the same side of the state’s political divide, with both demanding Mulayam’s resignation. Neither, however, wants a snap election.

The “best-case scenario” for them is the exit of Mulayam with President’s rule clamped on Uttar Pradesh because, as a BJP leader said, “under the present chief minister, we cannot expect fair and free polls”.

BSP chief Mayavati, however, demanded fresh polls and asked Mulayam to quit politics. “We want fresh elections in the state,” she said.

Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan wouldn’t say if her party might withdraw support to the government. “We have asked for his (Mulayam’s) resignation,” was all she revealed.

She explained that the trust vote was “illegal” because such a motion can be moved only on a directive from the governor.

Asked if the government should be sacked and central rule clamped, she replied: “It is for the governor to seek a report.” Sources said the governor had asked for one.

A BJP functionary said Mulayam had “pre-judged” the governor by moving the vote and that the governor was within his rights to order him to go for a second floor test.

“The 40 MLAs’ status is under a cloud and they should not have voted today. The governor can take a view based on the report he has sought.”

The Samajwadi Party scoffed at the resignation demands. Its general secretary, Amar Singh, reminded the Congress that the Manmohan Singh ministry hadn’t resigned after the Supreme Court declared the May 2005 dissolution of the Bihar Assembly unconstitutional.

He dismissed reports that the Rashtriya Lok Dal might withdraw support, saying its leader Ajit Singh had publicly declared he wouldn’t leave the coalition.

Congress sources said the party hadn’t decided whether to take the RLD, which has 15 MLAs, on board the United Progressive Alliance.

The BJP and Congress will launch separate campaigns in the state stressing Mulayam’s “lack of moral right” to continue in office.

Sources in both parties claimed that after the court verdict and the recent scandals, such as the “amar kahani” tapes and the land allotment controversies, Mulayam and Amar had become “considerably weak”.

“Every day they spend in office will take its toll on them. It suits us to discredit them as much as possible,” a Congress leader said. “But the hard truth is that the BSP will be the biggest gainer and not us or the BJP.”

Earlier, in the court, the judges had read out their verdicts separately. Chief Justice A.N. Ray took first strike, rejecting the BSP’s petition that the August-September 2003 defections fell foul of the anti-defection law.

But his two colleagues, Justices Jagdish Bhalla and Pradeep Kant, delivered almost identical judgments declaring that the then Speaker, Kesrinath Tripathi, had erred in recognising the defectors’ formation of an independent group and its later merger with the Samajwadi Party.

The bench, however, felt it lacked the jurisdiction to disqualify lawmakers and passed the ball to the current Speaker, Mata Prasad Pandey of the Samajwadi Party.

In the Assembly today, the BJP issued a “whip” to the 40 defectors to vote against the government, arguing the court judgment meant they were still in their old party.

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