Dance of Democracy: Uttarakhand crisis takes a full circle
The picturesque state of Uttarakhand has been sullied by dirty politics between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress since last week. Defection of nine Congress legislators, alleged horse-trading and finally the Centre's decision to impose President's rule has demonstrated how the party at the helm of the affairs can sway the political structure of a small state even without an election.
But India's democracy is not so fragile. Even while the BJP government at the Centre justified its move of imposing President's rule--Finance Minister Arun Jaitley went on to say the Uttarakhand was a "textbook example" of breakdown of governance--the judiciary stepped in to restore some balance to the breakdown of democracy.
In a dramatic turn of event, the Nainital High Court ordered a floor test on March 31 even as Supreme Court agreed to hear next week a PIL challenging imposition of President's rule in Uttarakhand.
After being dislodged, former chief minister of Uttarakhand Harish Rawat moved the Uttarakhand High Court in Nainital challenging the imposition of President's rule in the state. The petition, filed on Rawat's behalf by his counsel and fellow Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, has questioned the Centre's decision bringing the hill state under President's rule. Singhvi, a senior Congress leader and party spokesman, argued that circumstances were not suitable for invoking article 356 of the Constitution and imposing President's rule in the state.
What's important, the Nainital High Court allowed ruling Congress rebel MLAs also to participate in the trial of strength. Ironically, Rawat was ready to give a floor test on Monday. But the disqualification of 9 rebel Congress MLAs by the Speaker, who is also a Congress MLA, ruffled the BJP and prompted it to rush the President's rule.
BREAKDOWN OF GOVERNANCE
Debate has started last week on whether the Modi government at the Centre is right or not.
The ground on which Centre alleges break down of governance is the way the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Appropriation Bill. The Bill was declared passed by the Speaker in the Assembly on March 18 when 35 MLAs out of 67 had written to him in advance that they would be voting against it.
On the floor of the House these MLAs insisted on a division but the Speaker declared it passed by a voice vote when actually only 32 of the 67 present members supported it. In a House of 71, three were absent.
In a way, the Centre is right to point out to the malfunctioning of the state legislature.
It's a different issue that the political threads of the grand old party has also weakened over the decades as disgruntled Congress MLAs in states are ready to defect--Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are glaring examples. The Gandhis must retrospect whether the party needs to reorient its way of functioning and allow elected members to have a greater say. Doesn't widespread defection go on to show that there is a breakdown of governance within the party?
It's also different issue that BJP may have an "invisible hand" in orchestrating the crisis by buying out Congress MLAs to mat the elected Rawat government, a fact that will be vehemently refuted by the Modi government. But if this is proved to be true, then a dominant political party's act to destabilise an elected state government is a big blow to cooperative federalism and prove to be a bigger breakdown of governance!
CONSTITUTION PROVIDES A GUIDANCE
The founding fathers of the Constitution did contemplate such imbroglios in the decades to come. The Constitution indeed provides a guidance to deal with such situation.
Article 356 of the Constitution of India dealing with provisions in case of failure of constitutional machinery in State says:
(1) If the President, on receipt of report from the Governor of the State or otherwise, is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the President may be Proclamation
(a) Assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Government of the State and all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by the Governor or anybody or authority in the State other than the Legislature of the State;
(b) Declare that the powers of the Legislature of the State shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament;
(c) make such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the president to be necessary or desirable for giving effect to the objects of the Proclamation, including provisions for suspending in whole or in part the operation of any provisions of this constitution relating to anybody or authority in the State Provided that nothing in this clause shall authorise the President to assume to himself any of the powers vested in or exercisable by a High Court, or to suspend in whole or in part the operation of any provision of this Constitution relating to High Courts
(2) Any such Proclamation may be revoked or varied by a subsequent Proclamation
(3) Every Proclamation issued under this article except where it is a Proclamation revoking a previous Proclamation, cease to operate at the expiration of two months unless before the expiration of that period it has been approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament Provided that if any such Proclamation (not being a Proclamation revoking a previous Proclamation) is issued at a time when the House of the People is dissolved or the dissolution of the House of the People takes place during the period of two months referred to in this clause, and if a resolution approving the Proclamation has been passed by the Council of States, but no resolution with respect to such Proclamation has been passed by the House of the People before the expiration of that period, the Proclamation Shall cease to operate at the expiration of thirty days from the date on which the House of the People first sits after its reconstitution unless before the expiration of the said period of thirty days a resolution approving the Proclamation has been also passed by the House of the People
(4) A Proclamation so approved shall, unless revoked, cease to operate on the expiration of a period of six months from the date of issue of the Proclamation: Provided that if and so often as a resolution approving the continuance in force of such a Proclamation is passed by both Houses of Parliament, the Proclamation shall, unless revoked, continue in force for a further period of six months from the date on which under this clause it would otherwise have ceased to operating, but no such Proclamation shall in any case remain in force for more than three years: Provided further that if the dissolution of the House of the People takes place during any such period of six months and a resolution approving the continuance in force of such Proclamation has been passed by the Council of States, but no resolution with respect to the continuance in force of such Proclamation has been passed by the House of the People during the said period, the Proclamation shall cease to operate at the expiration of thirty days from the date on which the House of the People first sits after its reconstitution unless before the expiration of the said period of thirty days a resolution approving the continuance in force of the Proclamation has been also passed by the House of the People.
POLITICAL STORM IN THE OFFING
The net effect of the Central government’s decision to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand is that the Modi government has time till April 25, when the Parliament in re-convened after recess, to ensure an alternative government is formed in the state so that the proclamation putting State Assembly in suspended animation is revoked.
As the Modi government does not have the majority in the Upper House and combined Opposition is sure to defeat any resolution seeking approval of the House for President’s rule in Uttarakhand.
The proclamation imposing President’s rule cease to operate at the expiration of two months unless approved by both Houses of Parliament.
The Uttarakhand battle may have legal ramifications as the ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat and the Congress party is expected to mount a challenge in the Supreme Court. The apex court is already hearing petition regarding ouster of Congress led government in Arunachal Pradesh.
Another twist in the tale is the election for single Rajya Sabha seat due in July later this year. The ruling party, whichever is in office then, will bag the sole seat to the Upper House of Parliament. But this is not a defining factor for either BJP or Congress.
As directed by the Nainital High Court, Rawat has to face the floor test on March 31. It is going to be an acid test for both Congress and BJP as the numbers does not look favourable to either of them.
The anti-Rawat group has a slight edge with 36 MLAs including the 9 Congress rebels. However, things might change in the next 24 hours or so. Even otherwise the matter has headed to the Supreme Court for another round of legal wrangling.