Amidst all the fanfare surrounding Republic Day celebrations on January 26, the State of Arunachal Pradesh came under President’s rule. On Tuesday, President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to a recommendation for Central rule by the Union Cabinet, following “political instability” in the State. Minister of State for Home Kiran Rijiju had said that the cabinet was forced to take the decision because of a Constitutional breakdown as six months had lapsed between two sessions of the State Assembly. Suffice to say, the decision has once again put the BJP and the Congress on a collision course. Before the introduction of President’s rule, the State was ruled by a Congress government led by Chief Minister Nabam Tuki.
Under Article 356 of the Constitution, central rule is imposed for an initial period of six months and can last for a maximum period of three years with repeated approval from both Houses of Parliament every six months. It is rather unfortunate that a sensitive border State has found itself embroiled in what many consider an artificial constitutional crisis. Before the imposition of central rule, the Congress had ruled the State with the support of 47 legislators in the 60-member Assembly.
However, resentment against Chief Minister Tuki, who has been caught under a cloud of suspicion over serious corruption charges, began building up last year. Matters came to a head last month when 21 members of the Congress Legislature Party in the State demanded Tuki’s resignation.
Although the Assembly was not in session, Governor JP Rajkhowa stepped in to reschedule it a month ahead of schedule and recommended the dismissal of the Speaker, Nabam Rebia. When the Speaker barred the session from being held in the official Assembly complex, the rebels and 11 members of the BJP convened at a make-shift venue, under the orders of the Governor. At the make-shift venue, where the rebels and BJP legislators convened a “special session” of the Assembly, a motion was passed to impeach the Speaker. The “special session” also saw the passage of a no-confidence motion against the Chief Minister, where he was “defeated” in an unofficial floor test. Backed by Chief Minister Tuki, Nabam Rebia responded by dismissing 14 rebel legislators of the ruling party.
Critics of the NDA government have argued that the steps leading up to the constitutional crisis in Arunachal Pradesh are reminiscent of past attempts at destabilising State governments ruled by Opposition parties, with the Governor playing a partisan role in the entire affair. Under these circumstances, it is imperative to assess what the apex court had previously said on such events. In 1994, the Supreme Court had ruled that the only way to determine whether an elected government has lost or retained its majority in the Assembly is on the floor of the House. Before a five-member Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court now stands the constitutional question of whether the Governor can summon the legislature on his own. The Bench is also looking into whether the Governor can ask the Assembly on what motion it should take up. Suffice to say, all these concerns now come under the Congress party’s latest petition in the apex court, which challenges the Union Cabinet order on the imposition of President’s rule.
The court has asked the Centre to file its reply by Friday. The next hearing in the case will take place on Monday. Suffice to say, the Centre’s position on President’s rule is valid because six months have elapsed since the last time the State Assembly met, the deadline for which expired on January 21.
Nonetheless, it is rather clear that the Governor displayed unusual alacrity in the matter by preponing the Assembly session from January 14, 2016, to December 16, 2015, even though the six-month deadline (January 21) was a week before the original schedule. Moreover, the Centre made no attempt to facilitate a floor test in the State Assembly and instead decided to impose President’s rule, even though a five-member Constitution Bench of the apex court was looking into the matter.
The charge against the NDA government and its representative, Governor JP Rajkhowa, is one of gross constitutional impropriety. It is fair to argue that the Governor indeed played a partisan role.
However, the Congress is not entirely blameless in the entire affair. There is little doubt that the party avoided a floor test during the entire matter, and made no attempt in court to facilitate it. Moreover, it failed to contain the dissidence within its rank. Amidst Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s tall claims of democratising the party set-up, it seems rather apparent that State units continue to function according to the diktats of the central high command. In this context, Chief Minister Tuki’s claim that the dissidents did not approach the party high command seems disingenuous. The political drama will now play out in the courts.