Turning back the clock

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:37 am IST

Published - July 14, 2016 01:32 am IST

Once again, a Congress Chief Minister unseated by internal rebellion that enjoyed the backing of a friendly regime at the Centre is set to return to office. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that status quo ante as on December 15, 2015, should be restored in Arunachal Pradesh. This means that Nabam Tuki will return as Chief Minister and Kalikho Pul, the dissident who formed the government with the help of the BJP after a brief spell of President’s Rule, and even proved his majority in a floor test in February, will have to go. In political terms, the verdict is yet another rebuff to the Narendra Modi government, after the Uttarakhand misadventure that led to the reinstatement of Harish Rawat as Chief Minister. In Arunachal Pradesh, events took an unseemly turn last December when the Governor, J.P. Rajkhowa, intervened in an apparently partisan manner by advancing a session of the State Assembly by nearly a month and asking the House to take up a motion to remove the Speaker as the first item on the agenda. This led to a shutdown of the legislature at the behest of the Chief Minister and the Speaker, and the dissidents holding a parallel session at a makeshift venue, where the Speaker was ‘removed’ and a ‘no-confidence’ motion against the government adopted. The subsequent imposition of President’s Rule and the installation of the Pul regime raised questions about the propriety of the BJP-led Central government’s approach to Congress-ruled States.

Legally, the main significance of the Arunachal Pradesh verdict lies in the clarity it provides on the Governor’s role. The Governor has no authority to resolve disputes within a political party; nor is he the conscience-keeper of the legislature. He has no discretionary power to advance an Assembly session without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers; nor can he fix its agenda. On Mr. Rajkhowa’s defence that he was acting to prevent constitutional improprieties such as a Speaker, for whose removal a motion was pending, adjudicating on the disqualification of some MLAs, the Court has made three points about the Governor’s intervention: he had no role in the removal of the Speaker, he had no authority to interfere in the Speaker’s powers under the anti-defection law, and he had no basis to act on the views of a group of 21 breakaway Congress MLAs, who clearly did not constitute a two-third fraction of the 47-member Congress Legislature Party to be lawfully recognisable. Mr. Tuki may now struggle to demonstrate his majority as 14 MLAs disqualified under his regime have been reinstated by a recent judgment of the Gauhati High Court. Whether he survives or not, this is not the last we will hear about the issue of how manufactured majorities in State Assemblies are to be dealt with in the constitutional scheme of things.

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