There seems to be no end to the twists in the political drama that began unfolding in Madhya Pradesh since March 3, with several Congress MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia threatening to topple the Kamal Nath government.
Defying instructions issued by the state Governor, Lalji Tandon, who had sought a floor test from Nath to prove his majority in the assembly on March 16, the Vidhan Sabha Secretariat released late Sunday evening the list of business scheduled for Monday. According to the release, the Assembly, which convenes on Monday for the budget session, will only witness the Governor's address to the legislators followed by a motion of thanks to his speech. There is no mention of the floor test which Tandon had sought through a post-midnight missive sent to Nath on Saturday, citing reports that as many as 22 Congress legislators had resigned from the party and their membership of the assembly, reducing the Nath government to a minority one in the 230-member house.
According to sources, Tandon summoned Nath late Sunday night and expressed his displeasure over the release issued by the Vidhan Sabha Secretariat. Nath is learnt to have told the Governor that though he is prepared to face the floor test, deciding the business of the house is the exclusive prerogative of the Assembly Speaker. The beleaguered MP chief minister also reiterated that he wants all rebel MLAs to be present in the assembly before proceedings for the floor test commence and that they "should be allowed to exercise their voting right without any pressure or fear", indicating that the rebels were being intimidated by the BJP to topple his government.
Meanwhile, Congress sources told Outlook that despite the odds stacked against Nath after the open rebellion by 22 legislators, including six former ministers whose resignations have been accepted by the assembly speaker, the chief minister "is absolutely confident of surviving the floor test".
The rebels who have pledged support to Scindia, the former Congress leader who switched to the BJP last week, are expected to reach Bhopal early Monday. The Congress, which had moved over 90 of its legislators to a resort in Jaipur last week fearing horse-trading by the BJP, got these MLAs back to the state capital on Sunday. The BJP, which had also ferried some of its MLAs to a five-star hotel in Manesar, Haryana also moved the legislators back to Bhopal through chartered flights from Delhi late Sunday night. The rebels, quarantined by the BJP in Bangalore for over a week now, are yet to return to Bhopal despite some of their relatives filing complaints of abduction and wrongful confinement with the Karnataka police. Video clips featuring these MLAs pledging loyalty to Scindia have been widely circulated in political and media circles over the past few days though none of the rebels have said that they are willing to follow the Gwalior royal into the BJP.
As reported by Outlook earlier, several Scindia loyalists had wanted the former Congress leader to launch his own regional party but Scindia decided to join the BJP instead. Sources in the Congress, including some close confidantes of the rebel MLAs, have told Outlook that several of these legislators are unsure about joining the BJP since doing so would make their immediate political future uncertain. "If they join the BJP, they will have to resign from the Assembly. There is no guarantee that the BJP will agree to field all 22 of them as candidates for the bypolls that will be necessitated by their resignations. Even if they get a ticket, there is no certainty of victory since many local BJP leaders will be uncomfortable working for them as they have been bitter rivals for all these years," said a Congress leader.
After his late night meeting with Tandon, Nath told reporters that he will speak to Prajapati on Monday morning about the floor test. The chief minister, however, gave no indication of whether he will implore the Speaker to have the floor test conducted on Monday as per Tandon's instructions.
Sources say even if the floor test is allowed on Monday, the outcome may not necessarily be the fall of the 15-month-old Nath regime. Various scenarios are being speculated by the Congress leadership in Bhopal.
A party veteran told Outlook that while it is certainly possible that Nath and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh's efforts to convince the rebels to reconsider withdrawal of support to the government may fail and ultimately topple the government, there are at least two other scenarios that observers must not dismiss.
"Whenever the floor test is allowed - be it on Monday after the Governor's address or a day later, there could be massive ruckus in the Assembly by both sides, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the proceedings sine die, particularly if it's clear that the House cannot be brought in order. Since it is the budget session, a sine die adjournment would be unprecedented but still it can't be ruled out entirely. If this happens, the Governor may be left with no option but to recommend President's Rule since the government would not table the budget," the veteran said.
The other scenario he spoke about, asserting that this was "within the realm of possibility", was that "barring the six ministers whose resignations from the Assembly membership have been accepted (Tulsi Silavat, Govind Singh Rajput, Imarti Devi, Pradyuman Singh, Prabhuram Chaudhary and MS Sisodia), other rebels vote for the Congress... along with 6-10 BJP MLAs who may cross-vote in favour of the Congress". Although this scenario looks far-fetched given the BJP's boisterous claims of having the numbers to form a government and the repeated claims by the rebels of following "Maharaj (Scindia) wherever he goes", such a turn of events will certainly ensure survival of Nath's regime.
Several Congress leaders that Outlook spoke to expressed cautious optimism about the longevity of the party's government in the state, with one minister close to Digvijaya Singh insisting that "while Shivraj may have hailed Scindia as Vibhishan, the BJP may be surprised to find the real Vibhishans within its ranks". Shortly after Scindia defected to the BJP, former MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had likened the erstwhile royal to Vibhishan -- Ravana's brother in the Hindu epic Ramayana who betrayed the King of Lanka to help Lord Rama -- and said he had joined the BJP to destroy the Lanka of the Congress and Kamal Nath.
Given the confidence that both Congress and BJP leaders in MP are expressing about the two opposite possibilities in the state, the unraveling political drama may still have a few unpredictable plot twists left.