Dehradun: In a major boost to the Congress, ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat on Tuesday won the floor test in the Uttarakhand assembly though the result will be officially known only on Wednesday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) quickly admitted defeat after 33 legislators reportedly voted for Rawat while the opposition mustered only 28 votes in a house whose strength had been reduced from 72 to 62.
The speaker did not vote and nine Congress rebels legislators were not allowed to vote. Apparently, the sole nominated member also did not vote.
The Supreme Court monitored the voting and said it will announce the result on Wednesday. But within minutes after the floor test, the Congress sounded triumphant.
Sarita Arya, the Congress legislator from Nainital, told a TV channel here: "The Congress has won."
A beaming Rawat didn't comment on the result but thanked the "Supreme Court, democratic forces, divine forces and the people of Uttarakhand" for supporting him.
Using words that made it very clear that he had won, he said: "Uttarakhand will be victorious tomorrow (Wednesday).
"I hope the clouds of uncertainty over the state will be over and things will be clearer (on Wednesday)." But out of deference to the apex court, he refused to say what happened inside the assembly.
Most Congress legislators declined to comment on the outcome. But some flashed victory signs and shouted slogans such as "Congress Zindabad!" and "Harish Rawat Ziadabad!". They clearly looked overjoyed.
Tuesday's vote was called to prove whether or not Rawat enjoyed majority support after the defection by nine Congress legislators reduced his state government to a minority in the 72-member house.
But the scales tiled in his favour when both the Uttarakhand High Court and the Supreme Court ruled that the rebel legislators cannot take part in the floor test.
BJP member Ganesh Joshi conceded that his party had lost the vote.
"The BJP couldn't defeat the Congress in the numbers game," he told reporters after the assembly proceedings were videographed on the order of the Supreme Court.
Joshi accused the Congress of using "muscle and money power" to win the support of its own legislators.
The Congress now has 27 and the BJP 28 members in the house. But six other legislators, including two from the Bahujan Samaj Party, appeared to have voted for Rawat although the break-up is not clear.
The central government dismissed Rawat's government on March 27 and cited misgovernance to impose President's Rule in the hill state.
In New Delhi, a jubilant Congress described its Uttarakhand win as a victory for democracy.
"Democracy wins in Uttarakhand. Defeat for conspirators. Truth always wins over muscle and money power," spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
He asked the BJP, which had teamed up with Congress rebels to topple Rawat, to "apologise to the nation".
Added Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad: "Democracy has won. It is because of Supreme Court that conducting floor test was made possible in Uttarakhand. BJP tried to kill democracy."
Despite the floor test, Rawat's problems are not over yet. He has been summoned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to New Delhi to answer charges that he tried to bribe Congress rebels to return to his camp.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was among the first to react.
"Uttarakhand floor test outcome is a huge setback to Modi government. Hope they will stop toppling governments now," he tweeted.
Earlier on Tuesday, BSP leader Mayawati declared her party's support to the Congress when she said: "We have always opposed communal forces. Our two MLAs ... will vote for the Congress."