The BJP-led center’s move to impose President’s rule in Congress-led Arunachal Pradesh may derail the upcoming Budget Session with the opposition rallying behind the Congress.
By Ramesh Menon
Few understand the complicated politics of Arunachal Pradesh. Fewer still care ab-out what is happening there though it is a strategic border state. It has seen num-erous incursions by China, which intermittently raises territorial claims on the state.
Last week, Arunachal shot into the headlines when the Modi government clamped President’s rule in the Congress-ruled state. When the cabinet recommended President’s rule, President Pranab Mukherjee asked the central government why it wanted it. The government cited Governor JP Rajkhowa’s report saying there was a breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state. Home Minister Rajnath Singh apprised Mukherjee saying that the political situation there had deteriorated.
A Congress delegation led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, also met the President to complain about of how the BJP-led Modi government was interfering with the federal structure and trying to dislodge a Congress-ruled state. What really came as a surprise was that the President’s consent was given on the Re-public Day.
A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice JS Khehar issued notices to the central government and the governor asking why President’s rule had been imposed. When attorney-general Mu-kul Rohatgi appearing for the government opposed it saying that confidential information on the law and order situation cannot be disclosed and additional solicitor-general Satpal Jain appearing for the governor said that it must be kept secret, the Court said that the report be placed in a sealed cover for its perusal. The bench said it did not want to pass an interim order without knowing the grounds for proclamation. The dismissed CM of the state Nabam Tuki told mediapersons that there was absolutely no law and order problem in his state.
Senior advocate Fali S Nariman appearing for the state government said that imposition of President’s rule was not called for when the Supreme Court was already hearing all the parties. “It is only when constitutional governance becomes an impossibility that proclamation under Article 356 is resor-ted to,” he said.
The President’s proclamation will have to be approved by both Hou-ses of parliament. The NDA government will have to tread carefully. It desperately needs the support of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha to pass any legislation as it has only 67 MPs in the Upper House and needs at least 163 others to pass any constitutional amendment bill. Azad said that the Congress would raise the issue in the upcoming Budget Session in February.
The Congress immediately mo-ved the Apex Court challenging the cabinet’s decision. In a memorandum to the President, the Congress said: “Imposition of President’s Rule is disturbing…Perhaps the government does not wish the court to adjudicate upon the matter by presenting it with a fait accompli of a proclamation under Article 356. This is the first time since independence that such a recommendation has been made to impose President’s Rule in the midst of a court hearing.”
Political ideologies are non-existent in Arunachal Pradesh. MPs and MLAs change parties at the drop of a hat depending on which way the wind is blowing.
At the time of going to press, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court asked the central government to explain why it wanted President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh. It also asked the counsel of the governor to submit the report on the basis of which he had recommended President’s rule.
Once again, the Congress is on the warpath and busy rallying the opposition to attack the BJP government which it said was out to destabilize states where it was not in power. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal suspected that after Arunachal Pradesh, the center would target his government. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said: “Imposing President’s rule in Arunachal is a blatant bid to topple a duly elected government. The Congress will fight this attack on our constitution, on our democracy, on the people’s mandate.” Congress leader Kapil Sibal released a transcript of a taped conversation which he claimed was between leading dissident leader Kalikho Pul, who was a former minister in Arunachal Pradesh, and a businessman where he was heard asking him for support to topple the government with the help of the BJP and the RSS. D Raja of the CPI said that the BJP had flouted all norms of parliamentary democracy to topple the state government and create conditions for its entry.
The NDA government will have to tread carefully. It desperately needs the support of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha to pass any legislation as it has only 67 MPs.
It is no secret that Arunachal Pradesh is a state where political ideologies are non-existent. Politicians, MPs and MLAs change parties at the drop of a hat numerous times depending on which way the wind is blowing. The state has the distinction of seeing hundreds of MLAs change parties again and again on flimsy grounds and seeing them reap rewards such as ministerial berths, tickets to contest elections or lucrative government posts. Money has often changed hands and horse-trading is seen as an essential part of political strategy. The state has seen numerous instances of serious political crisis given its wavering political culture. This artificial constitutional crisis is just one of them.
Take a look at some of the instances. In 2003, the then chief minister Gegong Apang of the Congress crossed over to the BJP with his MLAs and helped form its government overnight. No questions were asked about political loyalties. Later, Apang and many others who had joined the BJP rejoined the Congress. In 2007, Dorjee Khandu toppled Apang to become the chief minister. When Khandu was killed in an air-crash in 2011, dissident activity toppled his successor Jarbom Gamlin and Nabam Tuki became the chief minister.
In 2014, Tuki ran into trouble as there were allegations by Congress MLAs that the state was sinking due to fiscal mismanagement and central funds were being diverted to allegedly make dubious payments. Kalikho Pul, who was the health and family welfare minister at that time, was heading the dissidence. He openly attacked the government at a cabinet meeting and also at other forums. To quell it, Tuki dropped him from the cabinet. He also dismissed four other ministers as they were suspected to be a part of Pul’s strategy to pull down the government so that he could take over as CM.
Pul, who had 21 MLAs supporting him, came with them to Delhi and camped here since December 2014 hoping to meet Cong-ress president Sonia Gandhi to demand a change of leadership. But she never met them. All that they could manage were meetings with V Narayanswamy, a former minister, who is in charge of Arunachal. They categorically told him that if Tuki was not replaced, they would leave the party.
Suddenly, dissidence against Tuki picked up when the BJP government at the center appointed Rajkhowa as governor. The dissidents led by Pul told him that many payments under the public distribution system were paid to Tuki’s associates without proper verification. The governor asked Tuki for clarification but got no reply.
As the assembly was not being conveyed for six months creating a constitutional im-passe, the governor called for an assembly session from December 16-18, 2015, when it was slated to meet on January 14, 2016. Tuki suspected that this was to stoke trouble using Pul who was in contact with 11 BJP MLAs and Congress dissidents and locked the assembly building. The governor also specified that the first item on the agenda would be a motion seeking the removal of the Speaker.
As they could not meet in the assembly building, the dissidents chose to meet at Pancha-yat Bhavan, a makeshift venue in Nahar-lagun, near Itanagar, on December 16. The meeting triggered off a political crisis in the 60-member assembly when 21 of the 47 Congress MLAs along with 11 BJP MLAs and two independent MLAs passed a resolution removing Nabam Rabia, the speaker and also passing a no-confidence motion against the Tuki government. They appointed Pul as the new leader. Tuki and his supporters did not attend the meeting presided over by deputy speaker, T Norbu. It was clear that Tuki did not have a majority.
Avinash Mishra, who was a former principal advisor to Tuki, told India Legal that the Congress realized that it had lost its majority and that is why it was hesitant to convene an assembly session fearing it would fail the flo-or test in a no-confidence motion.
The story is simple: As there was dissidence among the Congress MLAs, the opposition held hands with the rebels. The ruling dispensation did not call a session fearing a floor test. The governor stepped in and called for a session. Then the Gauhati High Court ruled that the governor was justified in advancing the session if he had reason to believe that the CM and the speaker were stalling a particular motion.
The dissidents met at a session where they removed the speaker and floated a no-confidence motion against the chief minister. The center moved in and recommended the President to impose President’s rule.
Former chief justice of the Himachal High Court Justice RB Mishra told India Legal that the fact that Tuki did not convene a session in the state assembly for six months was itself a case for President’s rule. The onus was now on the central government to prove to the Supreme Court that it had sufficient grounds to recommend President’s rule.
“The case involving SR Bommai whose government in Karnataka was dismissed in 1989 clearly states that the presidential proclamation can be judicially reviewed,” he said.
MISUSE OF ARTICLE 356
Article 356 which has been misused several times by various governments, specifies that if a governor feels that a government cannot function in accordance with the Government of India Act 1935, he could assume powers necessary to discharge those functions. Though former law minister BR Ambedkar had in 1949 assured parliament that Article 356 would not be misused, it was not to be.
Article 356 is one of the most misused provisions in the constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that a floor test would decide if a CM had lost the confidence of the House.
As regional parties grew in India, the concept of federalism flowered and Article 356 was looked at with a dose of cynicism as it could be used by a central government to remove a state government run by a party it was opposed to.
According to the Sarkaria Commission, Article 356 was invoked 42 times between 1975 and 1987. This is enough proof to show how the center uses the Article to dismiss state governments for political reasons. For example, in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru recommended President’s rule in Kerala, dismissing the EMS Namboodripad government. It is said that Nehru was not convinced about using Article 356 but Indira Gandhi pressured him to give in.
On the other hand, when the center and the state have the same party heading them, this is not the case. In 2002, Atal Behari Vajpayee was very upset with the communal conflagration in BJP-led Gujarat but he did not use Article 356 as his party would not have approved of it.
During the Emergency, judicial review of a Presidential order clamping Article 356 was shut out by the 38th Constitutional Amendment. It added Clause (5) to Article 356, stating: “Notwithstanding anything in the Constitution, the satisfaction of the President mentioned in Clause (I) shall be final and conclusive and shall not be questioned on any ground.”
But when the Janata government rode into power after the Emergency, then Prime Minister Morarji Desai brought in the 44th Constitu-tional Amendment Act in 1978 restoring Article 356, as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar.
Several opposition leaders in 1983 forced Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to appoint a commission headed by Justice RS Sarkaria to go into the center-state relationship. After five years of deliberations, the Sarkaria Commi-ssion gave a series of steps to strengthen federalism and prevent the misuse of Article 356. But as the recommendations were not given any statutory form, several state governments were dismissed outright.
Article 356 is one of the most misused provisions in the constitution. In 1994, the Supreme Court categorically said that it is only a floor test which would determine whether a chief minister had lost or won the confidence of the House.
As events will prove in the coming weeks, this will be another PR disaster for the Modi government as it will invite unnecessary criticism which it can well do without. The BJP calculation, according to reliable sources, is to use the dissidents to form a BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh before the Assam assembly elections this year and gain a foothold in the frontier north-eastern state.
In all likelihood, the saffron party will have one more state under its belt. With Tuki not having the numbers anymore, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will not survive this political crisis.