New Delhi, Feb. 21: The Congress was waiting for the Manmohan Singh cabinet to recommend President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh at its weekly meeting tomorrow when the Election Commission made a surprise announcement of polls in the heartland state.
The elections will be held in seven phases — the longest ever — starting April 7. Counting will be on May 11.
The announcement put the Congress and the government in a spot, as they weighed two questions: would it be “proper” now to dismiss the Mulayam Singh Yadav government' Parliament sits from Friday and the budget session would kick off with a display of frayed nerves from all sides. Also, would the Congress gain from such a move at this time'
Whether or not President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam would sign the recommendation has also been weighing on their mind.
The Congress’s core committee met this evening at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence.
It is believed that Singh felt it was “too late” to use Article 356 and the focus should shift to the budget. Congress sources said he also felt the Left should not be “pushed around too much” as its support is crucial.
But the official line, articulated by general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi, was that there is no constitutional bar on dismissing a government even after polls are notified. He added that doubts persist whether elections would be free and fair under the Mulayam government.
One option the Centre was said to be considering was to let things cool a bit, and dismiss Mulayam after the budget.
The Congress will be watching to see if Allahabad High Court orders the disqualification of the 24 remaining BSP rebels, on a petition that is to be heard tomorrow. Disqualification of 13 of the 37 MLAs who left the BSP for the Samajwadi Party in 2003 triggered the clamour for President’s rule.
The UPA camp was a little worried after the Samajwadi Party withdrew support to the Centre earlier in the day. Although the government retains majority in the Lok Sabha, Congress sources feared that with 38 MPs walking away, the dependence on the Left Front would increase, and the ally could leverage this to its advantage. “Not that we had a cosy equation with Mulayam but notionally his block of MPs gave a cushion,” a source said.
In the Rajya Sabha, the UPA has been reduced to a minority. Sources said its floor managers would have to muster all their skills to ensure that Independents and nominated members voted with them.
CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s statement that the UPA’s stability would not be affected by Mulayam’s pullout was a source of “assurance” for the Congress.
In a curious coincidence, the poll announcement came within hours of the BJP setting the condition that it would support President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh only if “elections are held on time”.
The Opposition party had promised unconditional support to any move to dismiss Mulayam, but added the caveat this afternoon. Sources said there had been disquiet in the BJP after chief Rajnath Singh declared unqualified support.
Around the same time, home secretary V.K. Duggal met chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswamy to assure him of the Centre’s support in providing security for the polls.
Before evening, Gopalaswamy was announcing the elections at an unscheduled news conference. Asked if seven phases were not too many — the last Uttar Pradesh election was held in three phases — he said: “West Bengal had five phases. And the number of polling stations there was 49,000. Uttar Pradesh has 1.10 lakh polling stations.”