PRESIDENT’S RULE IN UTTRAKHAND – ITS VARIOUS ASPECTS
The imposition of President’s rule, article 356 of the constitution on the recommendation of the BJP Central Government, in Uttrakhand State governed by Congress has again revived the debate held even during the Constituent Assembly debates about the propriety of such a provision. Broadly one can make a safe assertion that it has been often misused by which ever party was in government at the Centre. The reluctant resort to it by, Nehru Government to dismiss the Namboodiripad Government (no doubt pressurized by Indira Gandhi Congress President. I have it on the authority of Justice Krishna Iyer who was a Minister in Namboodiripad Government and had met Nehru to dissuade him to do so) was amongst the first blow on Provincial Autonomy.
Another important case of dismissal was in 1977 when Janata Government dismissed Congress states Governments on the puerile plea that the party had lost confidence because in the parliamentary election congress lost disastrously which plea the Supreme Court rejected outright.
Similarly the Supreme Court rejected the action of Central Congress Government when its Governor Mr. Buta Singh dismissed the opposition ruled Bihar Governments (in this case Ex Congress Law Minister HR Bhardwaj made the sensational public disclosure that he had been asked to influence Supreme Court Judge about it, but he refused to do so, and thereafter was black listed by Congress High Command). The Supreme Court held the proclamation illegal.
An yet with all my continuing opposition to resort to Presidents rule in the states, I must reluctantly accept that its use to dismiss nine BJP dominated states Government in Bommai case (1993) was welcome, as it strengthened the secular character of our country against communal forces.
But the Presidents rule in Uttrakhand is a mixed bag, brought up and acted queerly by both the main parties, Congress and BJP. A resume of facts leading to the President’s rule shows the ugly face of both parties. Uttrakhand assembly has 70 members. Before suspension Congress had 36 members supported by 6 independent MLA (total 42). Than gradually 9 Congress MLA led by Bahuguna formed a separate group and announced their intention to vote against Rawat. Earlier one B.J.P. member had crossed over to Congress – BJP asked speaker to disqualify him but speaker refused to do so. During budget debates the Speaker of the Assembly even rejected a valid request for division of votes and instead declared it passed.
On 26 nights the Central Government recommend President’s rule which has been accepted. I must frankly admit that neither the Congress nor BJP has come out clean. BJP effort at encouraging defection of Congress MLA shows that main parties in their lust for power are willing to break all moral rules. Let me quote what an MLA should do if he is going to join another party. In 1946, Acharya Narendar Dev of Socialist Party, when it was still in the Congress was an Congress MLA from U. P. Assembly. When Socialist Party decided to come out of the Congress, Acharyaji, whom Gandhiji had even wanted him to take over as Congress President, without any hesitation following moral stand resigned his seat and fought election again on Socialist Party ticket, though he lost.
I feel that apart from moral grounds, Congress Committed a grave mistake in persuading the speaker to disqualify Bahuguna and others not only after the President had imposed President’s rule instead of relying on Anti Defection law which provides an easier course by resorting in 10th Schedule of the Constitution which provides that;
- A Member of a house belonging to any political party shall be disqualified for being a member of the house ---.
- If he votes or abstains from voting in such house contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs…..Thus if rebel Congress MLA had voted against the budget or even abstained they would have been legitimately disqualified. Further clause 9 provides that a decision of Speaker shall be final. Further clause bars the jurisdiction of the Court. But now things have gone beyond the Speaker. Disqualification after Presidents rule is a nullity, apart form the fact that no voting in the Assembly was allowed by the speaker, and hence no charge against Bahuguna and others for defection can be leveled against them.
The matter was naturally taken to High Court where single judge without issuing a notice to central government passed an ex-parte order fixing the date for a floor test to be held in the Assembly. Such a strange order had to be stayed by the Division Bench, which will now hear both the parties on the next date.
I may in this connection mention a precedent in the U.P. Assembly, on a matter of confidence vote, the Supreme Court dealt with it in a most novel way. It allowed debate in the Assembly but directed the proceedings to be televised so as to avoid any wrong presentation of what happened in the Assembly, of course subject to the order of the court later on – (after all no one should object all proceedings being televised as parliamentary proceedings are televised every day). Thereafter the Division Bench could deal with the matter.
There is another unusual novel way for Congress to act. Under article 356 of the constitution the notification would cease to operate after expiration of 2 months unless before the expiration of that period it has been approved by resolutions of both houses of parliament.
At present the opposition is in majority in Rajya Sabha. If Congress can rely on its colleagues why not give an embarrassing slap to B.J.P. in this Constitutional matter and let B.J.P. face public ridicule. Of course it is a different matter if there are chinks in the opposition – in which course naturally we will have to await for the decision by the Division Bench to sort out this ugly mess.
The matter is now in Court. May one still hope that both the parties who have disgraced themselves at the bar of public opinion for encouraging defection and equally resorting to money power and have given bad name to politics, show some remorse and make a joint request to the President and Election Commission to hold new election to the assembly within three months or so. If they don’t show that mutuality, may be the court in its wisdom could so direct so that an unpleasant of chapter of public chicanery can come to an end at the earliest.