Fighting shy of certain defeat in the Rajya Sabha, the Vajpayee government tonight revoked President?s rule in Bihar, paving way for the return of Rabri Devi?s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government.
An ebullient Laloo Yadav joined Opposition parties in demanding the immediate recall of Bihar Governor S.S. Bhandari, who ran a sustained campaign for the dismissal of the Rabri government. But the ruling BJP was quick to project the Congress and RJD as the real losers in the month-long dismissal drama.
?By facilitating the return of the highly corrupt and criminalised Rabri Devi regime, which is the worst parody of governance seen in independent India, the Congress has conclusively proved its anti-Dalit character.... Sonia Gandhi has committed the gravest blunder since her late husband?s costly mistake in the Shah Bano matter in 1987,? BJP vice-president K.L. Sharma said.
The Congress and RJD, who may be on course for an alliance of sorts in Bihar, however, hailed the revocation as their victory, saying the ?undemocratic? Vajpayee government had received a resounding slap in the face.
In Patna, Bhandari ruled out the possibility of his resignation and assured the government ?full cooperation?. Terming the revocation a ?political decision?, he said: ?I will continue to discharge my constitutional responsibilities.? This was in the face of rumours that he might step down to spare himself the ?ignominy? of swearing in Rabri Devi.
The RJD government will resume office in Bihar tomorrow. A meeting of the RJD legislature party has been called to formally elect Rabri Devi its leader. Laloo Yadav denied he was interested in early polls to take ?advantage? of the ?victory in Parliament?.
Though the BJP looked off-colour after conceding this round of the Bihar battle to Laloo Yadav, it plans to launch a full-throated campaign to expose the ?anti-Dalit? face of the RJD and Congress. Laloo Yadav sought to pre-empt the BJP blitzkrieg by announcing a huge land reforms drive in Bihar, starting with distribution of 400 acres of land in poverty-stricken Jehanabad, the epicentre of the Dalit massacres.
Laloo Yadav also announced amnesty for ultra-Left activists languishing in jails. He vowed to ?seriously? implement land reforms in consultation with Left parties, which, along with the Congress, backed him to the last in Parliament despite earlier differences over his corruption cases.
This is the first time a government has been forced to revoke presidential proclamation on Article 356. It was faced with certain defeat in the Rajya Sabha as the Congress had decided to oppose the resolution.
The government?s decision is the latest in a series of humiliating rollbacks, beginning with the petrol price fiasco soon after tabling its first budget last June.
The Union Cabinet decided to formally revoke President?s rule after a 30-minute meeting this morning. Sources said the Cabinet decided that since Sonia Gandhi had rejected the Prime Minister?s last-gasp appeal, it had no option but to recommend withdrawal of the proclamation.
Home minister L.K. Advani announced the Cabinet decision in the Lok Sabha soon after Question Hour. In the Upper House, parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam made a similar statement. Late tonight, the President endorsed the resolution.
Advani?s announcement was greeted with thumping of desks by Opposition MPs, especially from RJD and Samajwadi Party. But the euphoria was clouded as MPs slammed the government for not tabling the resolution in the Rajya Sabha after it was passed by the Lok Sabha. The Constitution is clear that invocation of Article 356 has to be ratified by both Houses.
The Opposition in the Lok Sabha accused the government of undermining Parliament?s authority. Congress chief whip P.J. Kurien alleged the ruling coalition had ?taken Lok Sabha for a ride?. CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee dubbed today a ?black day?. He said the government had brought the resolution with ?much bravado? despite knowing it had no chance of being passed in the Rajya Sabha.
Later, Laloo Yadav demanded an apology from Vajpayee and Advani for ousting the duly-elected Rabri government.