It has not yet been established Manmohan has lost majority support

Constitutional experts are unanimous that the question of President Pranab Mukherjee asking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seek a vote of confidence will arise only after Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee formally hands over to the President a letter of withdrawal of her party’s support to the UPA government.

Legal experts say the President is not bound to act at this stage as Ms. Banerjee is yet to withdraw her support and it has not been established that Dr. Singh has lost majority support.

Senior advocate P.P. Rao says the President, on receipt of a letter revoking her support, must independently assess and satisfy himself whether the Trinamool’s action would materially reduce the government to a minority. Only if the President finds that it has been reduced to a minority would he ask the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence. For this, he can advise the Prime Minister to convene a special session of Parliament.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran feels it would be premature for the President to act now. He cannot take proactive steps immediately when some one says Ms. Banerjee is withdrawing support to the government. First, he must get the formal letter from her. When the withdrawal of support is established and if the President is satisfied that the government is reduced to a minority, he will be obliged to call upon the Prime Minister to prove his majority, says Mr. Ramachandran.

According to senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, at the time of formation of the government, the President must have obtained letters of support from various parties including those supporting it from outside. The President will not step in unless he is prima facie convinced that the withdrawal of support by one party has resulted in the government losing its majority. As Parliament is not in session now, the President can ask the Prime Minister to convene a special session if he has a doubt that the Prime Minister does not enjoy majority.

Senior advocate K.V. Viswanathan, while endorsing the opinion of other experts, feels this is one area where the President exercises his discretionary function. Once he is satisfied that the government has lost its majority, the President must act immediately and ask the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence giving him two or three weeks to prove his majority. The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations has recommended that the Prime Minister be given 30 days’ time.

When the Congress withdrew support to the Deve Gowda government on March 30, 1997, President Shankar Dayal Sharma initially gave Mr. Gowda seven days’ time to prove his majority. Subsequently, the President granted him four more days to face the confidence vote, recalls Mr. Viswanathan.

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