By Jaiveer Shergill
The elected government of Arunachal Pradesh was martyred on the eve of the Republic Day despite having a majority. The Centre is trying to defend their move under the garb of governor’s report about the alleged deterioration of law and order situation in the state. If the governor fears for his life in a peace loving state like Arunachal Pradesh, I doubt what he will have to say about Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra which are table toppers in the ranking of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) crime data.
To my utter surprise, the governor has cited the picture of a Mithun being slaughtered as evidence to support his perception that law and order situation in the State has deteriorated to the extent that President’s rule should be imposed. This shows his limited knowledge on culture and mythology of Arunachal Pradesh.
A bovine species, Mithun, is intrinsically related to the socio-economic lives of people of the state. They celebrate its birth and arrival and at the same time feel honoured to sacrifice the animal and offer its meat in community feasts. Mithuns are also given as bride price in the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. So, to link it with law and order situation of the state has no justification. The governor has definitely erred in this while recommending President’s rule in the state and at the same time, the haste in which the centre accepted the recommendation speaks of its political bias.
Coming to the constitutional provisions, the powers and position of governor in a state does not extend beyond advice of a democratically elected government and this has been established by the Supreme Court judgement.
Governor is bound to act according to the advice of the council of ministers. Now, under what provision of the constitution, did he unilaterally summon the assembly and decided the business of the House? Things should have been put on hold after the Gauhati High Court had directed for keeping the orders of the governor for advancing the assembly session in abeyance. Irrespective of his ideological affiliation, the position of governor demands the person to shed his bhakti towards his ideological patrons and uphold the principles of constitutionalism. For the sake of propriety, the occupants of constitutional positions are expected to rise above party politics and stay away from political manipulations and not to magnify them. Secondly, how can a deputy speaker overrule speaker’s decision and reinstate the suspended members? In parliamentary procedure, speakers’ decisions are treated as precedents for conducting proceedings.
The legality of such a decision is questionable and I hope Supreme Court will definitely look into this. It is the floor of the House and not the perception of the governor which should decide whether the government enjoys confidence of the majority or not. Supreme Court guidelines in the S.R.Bomai v/s Union of India case have been completely overlooked both at the time of recommending and imposing Article 356 in Arunachal Pradesh. If there was a constitutional crisis, that constitutional crisis was manufactured by the Modi government through the governor to destabilise the democratically elected government of the State which still enjoys the confidence of the House.
Arunachal Pradesh has also its strategic importance as it shares borders with China. So, by creating an artificial crisis in the State, both the Central government and the governor have put the security of India under potential threat. Now, things are out in the open and China must be observing the developments in the bordering State very closely.
Article 355 and 356 should not be interpreted as wanton invasion by the centre on the authority of the state government. These articles are not in the constitution to be used as tools by the central government to destabilise state governments and to further their political agenda. It was very much clear from the debates of the Constituent Assembly that the Centre will have to respect the limited autonomy of the States irrespective of whether it has been specified in the Constitution or not.
Article 356 can be imposed only when a situation arises in which the government of the State cannot be carried on as per the provisions prescribed in the constitution. In this case, the government has the majority of the House, the State is being run in a peaceful manner, yet President’s rule has been imposed. The BJP is making a desperate attempt to show its presence in the north-east and knowing their fate in Assam, the BJP made an effort to break the Congress party in Arunachal but could not form the government because of the anti-defection law. Therefore, the only political option left with them was to impose central rule. This is precisely why the words of caution and wisdom of the President of India were ignored to fulfil their political agenda.
The attempt of the Modi Government to rule Itanagar from Delhi is violation of the spirit of the Constitution and disrespect to the will of the people of Arunachal Pradesh. When the matter was sub-judice and the constitution bench of the Supreme Court was about to hear the matter, the centre should have waited for the final judgement before taking a call on imposition of Article 356 in the state. The spirit of cooperative federalism ingrained in the constitution and recommendations of Sarkaria Commission were thrown to the winds while dealing with Arunachal issue. Supreme Court has already observed that that President’s rule in Arunachal is a matter of grave seriousness and I hope the government in the centre will teach a lesson after the final verdict will be given by the apex court. However, the mindset of the BJP towards cooperative federalism is a wakeup call for the regional parties also because Arunachal Pradesh may not be the last stop for Modi government.
* The author is a Supreme Court lawyer and National Media Panellist, the Indian National Congress. The views expressed by the author are personal.