The saddest aspect of the political turmoil in Arunachal Pradesh is that its key actors have revived unedifying practices that one would have thought the Indian polity had left behind some years ago: dissident ruling party legislators joining hands with their political rivals to bring down an elected government, holding parallel or unauthorised Assembly proceedings, and the Governor playing a partisan role. The conduct of Governor J.P. Rajkhowa in the ongoing crisis facing the Nabam Tuki government, set off by a group of ruling Congress MLAs revolting against his leadership, is questionable. In S.R. Bommai in 1994, the Supreme Court decided that the only place for determining whether a Chief Minister has lost his majority is the floor of the House, and not the Raj Bhavan. When it appeared that Mr. Tuki had lost the support of many of the legislators, the Governor could have either asked him to prove his majority when the Assembly met on January 14, 2016, or, if the matter brooked no delay, requested him to advance the session for the same purpose. There was no justification for the Governor to advance the session to December 16 on his own, and a legitimate question arises whether the Constitution permits such action. In another partisan act, he sent a message to the House to take up ‘Resolution for removal of the Speaker’ as the first item on the agenda.
The Congress has been ruling the State with the support of 47 MLAs in the 60-member Assembly, but 20 ruling party legislators have rallied under former Minister Kalikho Pul and joined hands with the 11-member Bharatiya Janata Party group in a bid to unseat Mr. Tuki. They accuse the Chief Minister of financial mismanagement and corruption. In a pre-emptive move against the rebels convening the Assembly on the Governor’s order, the government locked down the legislature building and the Speaker disqualified 14 out of the 20 dissidents to bring down the number required for a majority. Disqualification under the anti-defection law is subject to judicial review and the rebels could have challenged the Speaker’s decision. Instead, showing unseemly hurry, the Deputy Speaker, a dissident himself, ‘revoked’ their disqualification. All the rebels, along with the BJP and independent MLAs, held a sitting of the ‘Assembly’ at a makeshift venue, and ‘removed’ the Speaker and then the Chief Minister through a ‘no-confidence motion’. With the Guwahati High Court keeping in abeyance all the decisions taken at the rebel ‘session’, and sharply questioning the Governor’s action in convening the Assembly, the rest of the crisis may play out in a courtroom. Nevertheless, it would be a travesty of democracy if the current crisis results in the imposition of President’s Rule without Mr. Tuki being given an opportunity to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The Centre should avoid any impression that constitutional norms will not be respected while handling the issue.