The BJP is facing really bad times in terms of its response to cooperative federalism. The day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was addressing the chief ministers at the meeting of the Inter-State Council, the saffron party got its second setback on Saturday when the rebel Congress MLAs of Arunachal Pradesh assembly went back to their parent party and supported the newly elected CLP leader Pema Khandu to form the Congress ministry in the state. All the bravado of the BJP came to a naught and the Party, which was depending on the support of the rebel MLAs for forming its own government again, looked miserable.
The fast moving developments on Saturday morning proved that the problem was within the Congress Party and the BJP, with the help of the Governor, exploited the situation by inciting the Congress rebels to change sides. With the Congress high command assessing the situation again and replacing the former chief minister Nabam Tuki by Pema Khandu, the rebels came back to the parent party making the total Congress strength to 45 out of 60 seats in the assembly.
The latest development gave a jolt to the BJP’s call for a Congress mukt North East and the BJP president Amit Shah will have to share the blame for this fiasco. He himself encouraged the Arunachal BJP to play the dirty tricks to take over the government in this small state. He was encouraged by his success in the assembly elections in Assam and he took advantage of the infighting in the Arunachal Congress. The Congress high command did not intervene earlier when the Tuki government was functioning despite lot of representations by the rebels but after the Governor’s action, the central leadership made a correct assessment of the support base of the fighting factions and replaced Tuki with Khandu and unified the Congress Legislature Party. The Party was thus saved due to this prompt action.
This is the first time the apex court has ordered reinstatement of a dismissed state government, though it had on several occasions, quashed imposition of central rule, terming it an unconstitutional exercise of powers by the Centre under Article 356 of the Constitution.
A five-judge constitution bench unanimously dealt a heavy blow to the Centre, which is still smarting from the setback it suffered barely two months ago when SC struck down Central rule in Uttarakhand, clearing the way for Harish Rawat-led Congress government to return. The verdict came as a morale booster for the Congress reeling from electoral defeats. The party grabbed the opportunity to hit out at Modi Government and the BJP for subverting the Constitution. Clarifying further the bench said, “All steps and decisions taken by Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly, pursuant to the governor’s order and message dated December 9 (to advance the session from January 14 to December 16) are unsustainable.”
This means the trust vote won by Kalikho Pul after being sworn-in as chief minister on February 19, was also nullified by SC. Additionally, as per the Supreme Court order restoring status quo ante, the disqualification of 14 MLAs as ordered by the then speaker Naban Rebia too would remain valid as he had given the order on
An exuberant Congress leader Kapil Sibal said after the verdict: “It is a historic verdict and a slap on the NDA government’s face for toppling a democratically elected government. It is SC which can alone uphold the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution.”
The constitution bench’s harsh criticism of governor J P Rajkowa’s proactive role came after it found the constitutional position by suo moto advancing the assembly session from January 14 to December 16, 2015 without taking the mandatory approval of the council of ministers headed by Tuki. Coming on the heels of the court intervening against similar tactics in Uttarakhand, this historic verdict will check the centre’s tendency to abuse governor’s powers and President’s power to topple opposition state governments.
Article 356 has been invoked over 120 times since independence. It suffered a welcome setback from the 1994 Bommai judgement which stipulated that a government’s majority should only be tested on the floor of the state assembly. Unfortunately, the Modi government dusted off the mothballs from Article 356, polished it up once again, to try to unseat properly elected governments in Arunachal and Uttarakhand. There have been rumours of similar plans afoot against the Congress governments in Manipur and Himachal Pradesh.
Pema Khandu will now take office as new Arunachal Chief Minister. Legally, the main significance of the Arunachal Pradesh verdict lies in the clarity it provides on the Governor’s role. The Governor has no authority to resolve disputes within a political party; nor is he the conscience keeper of the legislature. There is no discretionary power to advance an Assembly session without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers; nor can he fix agenda.