Maha Impasse: What BR Ambedkar, author of Indian Constitution, thought of President's rule

It is kind of tempting for any Central government to wield the axe of Article 356 to dismiss its adversaries in the states. Same happened in Maharashtra yesterday, when President's rule was imposed in Maharashtra on Tuesday evening amid a stalemate over government formation after the assembly polls last month.

Following Koshyari's report to the Centre and the Union cabinet's recommendation, President's rule was imposed in the state on Tuesday amid the impasse over government formation. President Ram Nath Kovind had signed a proclamation imposing President's rule in Maharashtra under Article 356(1).

But Dr BR Ambedkar back in 1949 had objected to president’s rule in states. On August 4, 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar, while brushing aside the objections that were raised in the constituent assembly over adoption of emergency provisions, such as the president’s rule in states, stated that “every part of the Constitution” could be abused for political purposes. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly of India, which gave India the present Constitution.

Like ordinances, the Constitution-makers intended for Article 356—it allows Union government to assume control of states’ governance—to be used only as an ‘emergency provision’. Ideally, Article 356 should only be invoked in case of “failure of constitutional machinery" in the state. During constituent assembly debates, Dr. Ambedkar made clear that “whether there is good government or not in the province (state) is not for the Centre to determine", adding that he hoped that Article 356 would remain a “dead letter".

Well Ambedkar’s hopes were belied and what he thought would be a “dead letter” was used over 100 times to dismiss duly elected governments.

What is Article 356?

Article 356 deals with imposition of President's Rule over a State of India. When a state is under President's Rule, the elected state government (led by the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers) is dismissed and Council of ministers is suspended at legislature, and administration is conducted directly by the Governor of the state. The Governor is an appointee of the President and thus, effectively, a functionary of the Union Government (the central or federal government). Thus imposition of President's Rule negates the federal character of the Indian political system, where administration usually is shared between the Union and State governments.

The Constitution is clear about the use of 356. It can only be invoked if a “situation has arisen where the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”

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