Flappers discoing in high spirits
What can one expect when the sensitive dynamics of national politics are handled by people with a traditional municipal-level hangover? The answer: a Bharatiya Janata Party-sponsored Uttarakhand fiasco. There could not have been a tighter slap on the BJP’s face than the quashing of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand. The dirty sheet for toppling the state government was spread under the direction of BJP bigwigs, who ignored the basic ethos of a democratic polity. A newly-appointed BJP general secretary took charge to further Prime Minister Modi’s dream of ‘a Congress-free India’. But the tables were soon turned. What Amit Shah is to Narendra Modi, this general secretary is to Shah—another nail in the BJP’s coffin.
Never in Independent India’s history has the Central Government invoked President’s Rule to stay the Speaker’s order to have a floor test. Never before in the history of India has Article 356 been invoked 36 hours before the disqualification of rebel MLAs comes into play. Never before has there been such a blatant interference—both in the Governor’s directions to have a floor test and in the Speaker’s order to disqualify of 9 MLAs—through the misuse of Article 356.
Federalism is a part of our basic structure. But this assault was all the more astonishing even though the legal luminaries of the Modi government knew of the Rajasthan judgment, the SR Bommai judgment, and the Rameshwar Nath judgment. The invocation of President’s Rule violated every line, paragraph, and spirit of these judgments.
The Rameshwar and Bommai judgments were based on concerns arising from horse-trading and allegations of corruption. In the event of horse-trading and corruption, the Supreme Court ruled that a floor test would determine the viability of the incumbent government. President’s Rule is not the answer, it said. The imposition of President’s Rule would, in fact, give more time for corruption and horse-trading. It is very clear that the law was deliberately and consciously violated this time. The argument made by Modi-government was that even though the courts are barred from reviewing the Speaker’s conduct inside the House, the imposition of President’s Rule is based on a super-structure that the Speaker refused to conduct a division of votes on the Appropriation Bill. But when the Supreme Court of India is barred from looking into the conduct of the Speaker under Article 212, how is the Central Government not barred?
The Governor sent three messages to the chief minister of Uttarakhand in writing that a floor test is to be scheduled on March 28. The Chief Minister wrote back twice, agreeing to the Governor’s order. But for the first time in the history, President’s rule was imposed even though the Chief Minister and the Governor were on the same page. As the Supreme Court has ruled time and again, Article 356 can only be applied when there is a breakdown in the constitutional machinery. In the eight reports written by the Governor, not once did he mention a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. “I, the Governor, therefore, recommend President’s Rule,” was never said. So, in Uttarakhand’s case, President’s rule was imposed by the Modi-Cabinet, even though the Governor did not recommend it.
Let’s take a look at the diary of events. On March 25—Friday—the disqualified Congress MLAs sought a stoppage of their disqualification proceedings. The High Court rejects their writ petition. On March 26—Saturday—the Speaker heard the disqualified MLAs for four hours and closed the hearing. But after repeated requests, he extended it to Sunday. The Modi cabinet met on Saturday night and on Sunday recommended the imposition of President’s rule.
During the recent proceedings in the Uttarakhand High Court, we heard the court saying that the Central Government is not a private party and it has a responsibility. The court also held that the 9 Congress MLAs will have to pay for their ‘sins’ of defection. The judiciary expressed its pains.
Modi must realize that his government is too big and important to be left to the likes of Amit Shah or his overenthusiastic but relatively inexperienced general secretaries. Ruling a country with a deep-rooted democratic ethos requires a sincere vision. People with the tendency to convert serious political issues into a street corner volleyball game are not only counter-productive to their own political outfits but dangerous in a democracy like ours. A political party must refrain from using such elements in the serious business of politics. BJP tasted it in the Bihar elections. It also faced the heat of projecting an over-enthusiast in the Delhi elections. If all this cannot open the eyes of Narendra Modi, what will? If he leaves decisions of serious importance in the hands of organizational flappers, he will find more blots on his forehead in the times to come.
Before the Uttarakhand fiasco, I was not sure whether Harish Rawat was capable of winning the forthcoming Assembly elections. But the BJP’s ‘keertan-mandli’ has now ensured that he wipes out the lotus from Uttarakhand in the coming election. The battle of Uttarakhand has already crossed the floor of the house and reached the fields. Thanks to the collective wisdom of BJP leadership and the role of its over-actors, this is one battle the party has lost even before it formally begins this winter. The BJP perhaps will understand now that activism alone is not enough. A positive commitment to democratic values is of fundamental political importance, for in a democracy what ordinary people think is important. Unfortunately, the BJP is relying on individuals who have contempt for basic principles and perceive politicking as akin to discoing with high spirits.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views expressed are strictly personal)