OPINION

Politics, impropriety and President’s Rule

It is unfortunate that Arunachal Pradesh, a sensitive border State, should find itself in the throes of an artificial constitutional crisis. After seeking some clarifications from the Union government, President Pranab Mukherjee has approved the imposition of Central rule. The proclamation will have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament and the validity of President’s Rule may be considered by the Supreme Court, but it is difficult not to discern a discredited political pattern behind the crisis that led to the current situation. The pattern involves dissidence within the ruling party, the opposition joining hands with the rebels, confusion over the likelihood of a floor test, and the Governor intervening in a partisan manner. It is in similar circumstances that Article 356 of the Constitution has been misused in the past. And it was in such circumstances that the Supreme Court declared in 1994 that the only place for determining whether a Chief Minister has lost or retained majority is the floor of the House. Yet, the country is still witnessing the sad spectacle of partisan politics overshadowing constitutional propriety. It is a poor commentary on the Narendra Modi government that instead of finding ways to facilitate a floor test it has imposed President’s Rule in the midst of an ongoing hearing before a five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. The Congress in the State is also to blame because, having obviously failed to address the dissidence in its camp against Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, it appears to be avoiding a floor test as it has not sought interim orders to that effect from the court.

Undoubtedly, there is a constitutional impasse because six months have elapsed since the last time the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly met. That itself is a valid ground for Central rule. But it cannot be forgotten that events were manipulated in such a way that the divided legislature never got an opportunity to meet and test the government’s majority. The crisis was precipitated when Governor J.P. Rajkhowa advanced the session scheduled for January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015, and fixed a motion seeking the removal of the Speaker as the first item on the agenda. In that controversial sitting at a makeshift venue, the Speaker was ‘removed’ and a ‘no-confidence motion’ adopted against the Chief Minister. The Gauhati High Court has ruled that the Governor was justified in advancing the session by acting on his own discretion if he had reason to believe that the Chief Minister and the Speaker were stalling a particular motion. The constitutional question of whether the Governor can summon the legislature on his own and whether he can send a message to the Assembly on what motion it should take up is now before the Supreme Court. An authoritative pronouncement is necessary on this question, but what must not be forgotten is that political processes followed should be rooted in norms of democracy, and not be at the mercy of any discretionary powers of constitutional functionaries.



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