Rebel MLAs with Scindia.

Rebel MLAs with Scindia.

Rebel MLAs swear by Scindia, angry with Nath; CM letter to Guv softens tone

Cong claims 16 MLAs forced in isolation; BJP leaders meet Guv over Nath postings

Agency Report | Bengaluru/New Delhi/Bhopal | 17 March, 2020 | 11:20 PM

Swearing their allegiance to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who jumped ship from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week, Madhya Pradesh's rebel Congress legislators say they will stay put with their leader.

“As Scindia is our leader, we will always stay with him. He taught us a lot. I will always stay with him even if I have to jump into a well,” rebel Congress MLA Imarti Devi told reporters here in Hindi.

Scindia, the 49-year-old Gwalior scion, resigned from the Congress on March 10, coinciding with the 75th birthday of his late father Madhavrao Scindia, and joined the BJP in New Delhi on March 11, severing his 18-year association with the grand old party.

The rebels, including six former ministers, have been staying in a resort on the city’s outskirts for over a week now.

Alleging that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath never heard them even for 15 minutes after they were elected 15 months ago, party lawmaker Govind Singh Rajput said that he had not been able to take up development works in his constituency so far.

“Kamal Nath never heard us even for 15 minutes. Whom should we talk to for development in our constituency,” Rajput asked.

Expressing unhappiness with the functioning of the Madhya Pradesh government, Rajput said that in every cabinet meeting, Kamal Nath would only talk about the development of Chindwara, his home constituency, as he was not bothered about the other regions.

“Many legislators are unhappy with Kamal Nath and the way the government has been functioning. We do not even feel safe to go back to Bhopal. We will go if we are assured of safety by the central security forces,” Rajput asserted.

Echoing similar feelings, party legislator Rajvardan Singh said that they (rebels) are 23 in total of which 22 are in Bengaluru since a week.

“We have submitted our resignations to the Assembly Speaker (Narmada Prasad Prajapati) and requested him to accept them. Though he summoned us to meet him last Friday (March 13), we could not go on that day for some reason,” Singh said.

Reiterating their loyalty to Scindia, another rebel MLA, Tulsi Silawat, also sought the protection of central forces as they didn’t trust the state police, which is under the control of Kamal Nath.

Asked if they would also follow Scindia and join the BJP, Silawat said they would discuss about their next move only after they return to Bhopal.

“We will think about it (to join BJP or not) later. We want the Speaker to first accept our resignations, as he has done in the case of six MLAs who were ministers,” Silawat said.

Meanwhile, accusing the BJP of holding up the party’s MLAs in captivity in Bengaluru for over a week, Madhya Pradesh Law Minister P.C. Sharma said that they (rebels) were hypnotised and forced to make scripted replies.

“Some of our legislators are under pressure. Why are they holding press conference at a resort in Bengaluru? What is stopping them from returning to Bhopal and telling the same to the local reporters? They are under captivity in the BJP-ruled Karnataka, which is hosting them,” Sharma said in Bhopal.

Earlier in the day, Kamal Nath had said that trust vote would be undemocratic when over 20-22 ruling party legislators are held captive as hostages in Bengaluru by the BJP, which is desperate for power at any cost.

“Trust vote will be undemocratic as 22-24 of our MLAs are held captive by the BJP in Bengaluru since a week. They must be present in the Assembly if the floor test has to be held for a test of strength,” Kamal Nath said in his letter to Madhya Pradesh Governor Lalji Tandon.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday would examine a dilemma emerging out of the political upheaval in Madhya Pradesh where 22 Congress MLAs have resigned and the Speaker has accepted the resignation of six.

The remaining 16 rebel Congress MLAs have moved the top court saying they are staying at a resort in Bengaluru of their own free will and volition, whereas the Madhya Pradesh Congress Legislative Party (MPCLP), in a counterclaim said they have been forcibly kept in isolation.

In a petition filed through advocate Arjun Garg, the 16 rebel MLAs sought the apex court to issue a direction to the Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly to accept their resignations forthwith, as they tendered resignations voluntarily without any threat or pressure from any side. The MPCLP, which also moved the apex court, claimed these MLAs have not been permitted to either contact the office bearers or even their family members. The Madhya Pradesh Congress has made the Home Ministry, the Centre and Karnataka government as respondents in the matter.

The petition filed by the MLAs contends they do not wish to continue as Members of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly and would urge the apex court to direct the Speaker to accept their resignations forthwith like he has accepted the resignations of the six other MLAs.

“In view of the fact that the applicants have tendered resignation, floor test cannot be withheld under the pretext of the applicants not being available,” said the petition.

Contesting this argument, MPCLP claims the BJP in MP has used its might and power to hold its 16 MLAs in complete isolation in Bengaluru. “It is also relevant to note that although these aforesaid legislators have purportedly sent their resignation letters, none of them resigned from the primary membership of the Congress party”, said MPCLP petition filed in the top court.

However, the MLAs claim in their petition that “none of the 22 MLAs either came out of Bengaluru nor did they appear before the Speaker. However, the Speaker for the reasons best known to him accepted the resignations of only six MLAs on March 14, 2020.”

The Congress has also challenged the “unconstitutional” messages sent by the Governor on three occasions to conduct the floor test in the absence of 16 MLAs. “A fraud upon the Constitution played by the constitutional authority itself and are completely beyond the realm of the powers of the Governor”, added the petition by MP Congress.

The MLAs have urged the apex court that they have already tendered resignations, therefore, floor test cannot be withheld under the pretext of their unavailability. The Congress contests this argument by stating that 22 MLAs who represent 22 constituencies almost 10 per cent of the total seats have purportedly resigned and the electorate of these constituencies are completely unrepresented.

“In these circumstances, a trust vote if held will be a complete sham and would be antithetical to the principle of representative democracy which is a basic feature of the Constitution,” said the MP Congress.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought a response from Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh by Wednesday on the plea of former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan seeking an immediate floor test on the floor of the Assembly.

A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud issued the notice to the state government and others, including the Secretary of the Legislative Assembly, and listed the matter for further hearing at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday.

The bench granted Chouhan liberty to serve the notice to the state government, Assembly Speaker and other parties in the matter, which includes serving through e-mail.

Madhya Pradesh BJP chief V.D. Sharma, former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the leader of the Opposition Gopal Bhargava met Governor Lalji Tandon on Tuesday evening and asked him to prevent the large-scale appointments being made by the Kamal Nath government. They contended that the minority government can’t make constitutional appointments.

They said the government had made several appointments without taking the Governor into confidence. The government announced the appointment of Shobha Ojha as the chairman of Women’s Commission, J.P. Chanopia as chairman of Backward Classes Commission and even the new Chief Secretary Gopal Reddy. The retiring Chief secretary SR Mohanti has been appointed the Director-General of the RCV Noronha administrative academy.

Most of the appointments have been made after the ruling party lost the majority in the Assembly, said BJP leaders.

The Governor said he was not aware of these appointments and transfers and will look into the appointments.

Chouhan said the BJP will resist all the appointments until the government clears the floor test.
BJP leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said on Tuesday that rebel Congress MLAs lodged in Bengaluru have “openly” come out against the Kamal Nath government and that these MLAs have made it clear that they are not kept as captives in the Karnataka capital.

“The Congress MLAs’ statements have nailed the Congress lie. These legislators are clearly against the present Nath government,” Chouhan said, adding “rather than diverting the attention of the people, Kamal Nath should face the floor test in the Assembly.”

“By avoiding the floor test, the Congress government is only buying time,” said Chouhan.

He said the BJP MLAs have presented themselves physically before the Governor. “On the basis of the numbers, the Congress government has lost its majority, which only the floor test in the Assembly can bear out,” said the BJP leader.

After his government survived for another day, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath continued his correspondence with Governor Lalji Tandon on Tuesday with a conciliatory note without yielding any ground.

The letter gives a glimpse of the ruling party’s strategy to deal with the new situation where the MLAs, holed up in Bengaluru, were shown addressing the media and complaining about the partisan and arrogant attitude of the chief minister.

MLA after MLA including former ministers has been shown lambasting Kamal Nath for fostering nepotism and spending all development funds on Chhindwara.

His letter in Hindi roughly translated in English said, “I have pursued a 40-year political career with restraint and due respect for others. I am sad that you have, in your letter dated March 16, accused me of not keeping up parliamentary propriety. I regret if you have been offended for any reason. You did mention the adjournment of the House till March 26 without finding it proper to mention the reasons for it. As you know our country and indeed the entire world is facing the threat through coronavirus and the World Health Organisation has declared it a pandemic. The government of India has issued an advisory against large congregations or crowding in public places. This was the reason the Speaker adjourned the House till March 26, 2020, 11 a.m.”

He further said, “You have expressed regret that I avoided undergoing the floor test in the timeframe you prescribed. I wish to bring to your notice the fact that I have proved my government’s majority many times during the past 15 months. If the BJP is accusing me of having lost majority, it can seek a floor test through a no-confidence motion in the House. As per my information, they have already moved a no-confidence motion that is pending with the Speaker. If the Hon’ble Speaker acts on the motion as per the Vidhan Sabha rules it will establish our majority. I have, through frequent personal meetings and letters, been acquainting you with the extra-ordinary situation arising out of BJP flying 16 of our MLAs to Bengaluru and keeping them in a resort with the help of Karnataka police like hostages. They are not being allowed to meet or talk with others. They are being prevented from returning to Bhopal while BJP leaders are meeting them, offering allurements and subjecting them to pressure, fear and forcing them to make false statements before the media. As evidence, a complaint from the brother of one of them, Manoj Choudhary, is enclosed.”

“I wish to assure you again, let the 16 Congress members be free in an open atmosphere for five to seven days. They would take independent decisions. Your assumption that unless I prove my majority on the floor of the House on March 17, I will be deemed to have lost majority will be unconstitutional, being baseless,” the CM’s letter further said.

“I also learn that the BJP leaders have filed a petition in the court. In the light of these facts, I have forwarded your directives to the Hon’ble Speaker for appropriate action. I am also marking a copy of this letter to him,” Nath wrote in the letter. (IANS)