When the government tabled the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Rajya Sabha on August 5, 2019, what was lost in the chaos of the house was the resignation of three opposition members of the upper house. The Bill stripped the J&K of its special status granted using Article 370 and split it into two Union Territories. According to an Indian Express report, the resignation of Congress chief whip Bhubaneswar Kalita, Samajwadi Party’s Surendra Singh Nagar and Sanjay Seth were part of carefully orchestrated moves by the BJP. It was aimed at ensuring smooth passage of the bill.
According to the report, these three leaders were approached by a key BJP leader on the eve of the August 5 announcement.
A senior government functionary along with a politician from Assam visited Kalita’s New Delhi house in an unmarked vehicle the night before the announcement. They met him to persuade him to dump the Congress and switch to the saffron party.
According to the report, the secrecy and urgency expressed by the government functionary even took Kalita by surprise. In the case of Kalita’s refusal, a plan B was also put in place under which Kalita’s relatives and people close to him were brought to Delhi to convince him. However, plan B was never put into action as Kalita agreed during the meeting.
The resignation of these three leaders was key to BJP’s Rajya Sabha arithmetic in getting the bill passed. While the BJP had reached out to several opposition MPs to gather their support, the MPs categorically made it clear that they could do little if Kalita, as a chief whip of the party, issues a whip as its violation would have cost them their membership. Therefore, the ruling party reached out to Kalita and ensured his support in their favour.
As soon as the house assembled on August 5, the Chairman announced Kalita’s resignation which left the Congress stunned.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Kalita said that he was in support of the abrogation of Article 370 for a long time. “We should be one nation, with one flag and one Constitution. Nobody could do it and when this government brought that Bill for the abrogation of Article 370, I thought I should support the Bill,” he said.
Kalita claimed that he had discussed the J&K bill issue within the Congress party and had proposed a discussion in the Parliamentary party or in the Working Committee to support the Bill but that did not happen. Therefore, he resigned and supported the bill from outside.
However, he denied that any BJP leader had met him, persuading him to resign. The BJP sent Kalita to the Rajya Sabha in March 2020.
The report also claimed that the two Rajya Sabha MPs of the Samajwadi Party who had also resigned, talked about pressure from a Union minister to leave the SP ahead of the move.