Constitutionality of Political Crisis in Arunachal

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(Madabhushi Sridhar)

On Republic Day, President of India has signed a proclamation under article 356(1) of the constitution, imposing President’s Rule in relation to the state of Arunachal Pradesh and keeping the legislative assembly of the state in suspended animation with effect from January 26.  According to Home Ministry’s statement, which also explained, “taking cognisance of the constitutional breakdown that has taken place in the state as reported by the governor of Arunachal Pradesh, the union cabinet in its meeting held on January 24, had recommend to the President to issue such proclamation”.

When Ambedkar wrapped up his discussion on draft Constitution for India, he wished that Article 356 shall remain unused. But it was overused left, right and centre. Politically powerful party in centre always tried to establish superiority. Some times 356 came to rescue states from plunging into crisis. Surprisingly it was not used when it was supposed to be.  Mrs Indira Gandhi has reputation of dismissing her own party governments at the states because of ‘constitutional crisis’.

After Supreme Court judgment in S R Bommai, things changed. The Constitutional amendment made it difficult for centre to misuse Article 356. The usage of discretion by the President came under review of judiciary indirectly. Though the apex court secured the dignity of head of the state, it did not spare the political executive at the centre. The Supreme Court ruled that judges can look into the report sent by the Governor and examine whether there was really a breakdown of Constitutional machinery necessitating to hand over the reins of administration to the Central Government. By the time Supreme court found that there was no constitutional crisis, and 356 was misused, the state went to polls, Governments changed and judicial conclusions became infructuous as the SC order could not bring back the Government which was unconstitutionally dismissed.

What 356 wanted is not political crisis. Engineered defections and resultant crisis in ruling party alone was not enough to invoke dominant power of the Centre over ‘equally’ sovereign state’s elected government. The Governor has a duty to truthfully report that there is no possibility to administer state and there was a break down. Disturbance to public order, police failure, law and order issues may not be considered as ‘constitutional crisis’, something more is required.

The Union Cabinet needs to examine it thoroughly and then if felt essential, should recommend the President to dismiss the state government. When the Judiciary restrained itself from reviewing the discretion of Union Government, there was none to examine the truth of ‘report’ and ‘genuineness’ of cabinet’s recommendation. The Head of state cannot be faulted because he generally acts on the advice.  In result, hundreds of governments fell. If opposed the PM, it was difficult for CMs to survive in power.

After Bommai Judgment, the Constitution was also amended and wielding 356 became difficult. Misuse has almost become impossible because within couple of months the Parliament has to approve the imposition of President’s Rule in state.  The Governments at centre are well aware of the consequences.

One has to understand the developments in Arunachal Pradesh with this background. BJP leaders contended “Infighting and factional feud among the Congress which started from 2 November, 2014 is responsible for the current political turmoil in the state and we have nothing to do with affairs of other parties”.

The BJP also claimed that their MLAs faced security threats. One of the instances cited for ‘crisis’ is: “There is a constitutional requirement that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions of a state assembly. If there is a gap of more than six months, there is certainly a constitutional crisis.” It is a fact that according to Article 174 (1) of the Constitution, there should not be a gap of more than six months between the assembly’s last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.

Media reported: Arunachal Pradesh has been rocked by a political crisis since 16 December last year when 21 rebel Congress MLAs joined hands with 11 of BJP and two independents to ‘impeach’ Assembly Speaker NabamRebia at a makeshift venue, in a move branded as “illegal and unconstitutional” by the Speaker.The Congress slammed the NDA government for rushing to impose President’s rule in the northeastern state, and “disrespecting” the Supreme Court by bypassing it when it was hearing the matter.

“Point to me even a single questionable law and order situation in Arunachal Pradesh? They can’t, because there is none. Arunachal Pradesh is a peaceful state, you can go and see and give a report,” Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister NabamTuki said.

Supreme Court took up the challenge filed by the Congress Party. Cow slaughter, threats and an episode with Chief Minister NabamTuki’s council of minister that almost resulted in physical assault were some of the reasons cited by Arunachal Pradesh Governor JP Rajkhowa while detailing why President’s Rule was essential in the state. He sent six reports to President, claiming how “Constitutional machinery has broken down in the state.”

A five-Judge bench of Supreme Court is examining the constitutional validity of the imposition on the factual issue of ‘constitutional crisis’.

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