Crisis in the 15-month-old Vijay Bahuguna government in Uttarakhand deepened today with five disgruntled Congress MLAs boycotting a meeting convened by him, triggering sharp criticism from the ruling party which dubbed it as an "insult" to the Chief Minister.
Bahuguna had called the meeting on Monday to hear their grievances after Congress MLA Harish Dhami threatened to resign last week if his complaints were not redressed within a fortnight, prompting four more party MLAs to express solidarity with him.
Rejecting the Chief Minister's invitation for a meeting at the secretariat, the MLAs instead met state sports minister Dinesh Aggarwal, considered close to Union Minister Harish Rawat, at his residence to vent their grievances.
The boycott of Bahuguna's meeting came close on the heels of Rawat, MP from Haridwar, camping here for three days at the behest of the Chief Minister to pacify the dissident MLAs and defuse the crisis.
Meanwhile, terming the boycott of the meeting by the five MLAs as an insult to the Chief Minister, Pradesh Congress spokesman Dhirendra Pratap today demanded that three of the legislators should quit the posts they hold in the government.
"They have no right to continue in office if they have no faith in the Chief Minister," he said referring to Mayukh Mahar, Himesh Kharkwal and Manoj Tiwari who hold cabinet rank posts in the government.
Mahar is vice-chairman of State Planning Commission whereas Kharkwal and Manoj Tiwari are Parliamentary Secretaries.
Interestingly, they represent constituencies located in Kumaon region, considered a stronghold of Rawat, who had nurtured the hope of becoming the chief minister.
Congress has 32 MLAs in the 70-member Assembly with three BSP MLAs, one UKD member and three Independents supporting the Bahuguna government. Opposition BJP has 31 MLAs.
Miffed over "lack of development" in their respective constituencies, the MLAs Dhami (Dharchula), Hemesh Kharkwal (Champavat), Manoj Tiwari (Almora), Mayukh Mahar (Pithoragarh) and Narayanram Arya (Gangolihat) submitted their grievances in writing to Aggarwal authorising him to convey them to the Chief Minister.
Dhami also set a fresh one-month deadline for Bahuguna to redress his complaints and reiterated his threat to resign from the Assembly if the state government did not act.
The main grouse of the rebel MLAs is that though the Chief Minister announced a slew of development projects for their constituencies, only a few of them have been taken up in the past one-and-a-half years of his tenure sparking resentment among locals.
When contacted Dhami said the ball is now in the court of the Chief Minister.
"Taking action on our complaint is the responsibility of the government. We have extended the deadline. If no action is taken within the given time frame, something drastic will happen," he warned.
Asked why they did not meet Bahuguna despite being invited, Dhami said it does not matter because they have got their grievances conveyed to the Chief Minister.
Bahuguna said he gave the MLAs a chance to voice their grievances by inviting them for a meeting but it was for them to accept or decline the invitation.
Referring to the charge of lack of development in the constituencies of the rebel MLAs, the Chief Minister said the announcements had been made with the government's five-year tenure in mind.
"Expecting all the announcements to be fulfilled within one financial year is not realistic on the part of MLAs," Bahuguna said.