Having thrown constitutional proprieties to the wind in Uttarakhand by imposing President’s Rule, can the Centre still claim that it is being fair and impartial? Can the BJP, which is in power at the Centre, still pride itself on its adherence to value-based politics?
What has happened in the state over the past 14 days is at best a return to the 1970s and 1980s, when the opposition parties used to bemoan the dictatorial tendencies in the polity, or, at worst, plain political skulduggery.
If one just looks at the headlines, one cannot but get a feeling that it is both. Nine Congress MLAs led by a disgruntled former chief minister withdraw their support to the Harish Rawat government. However, the Speaker disqualifies them as MLAs under the anti-defection law because they together do not form two-thirds of the Congress legislature party. Had they been able to do, they could have merrily joined hands with the BJP to form a new government and have been rewarded with ministries. Remember UP, 1997?
Worst, why wasn’t the government allowed to prove its majority in the assembly on Monday, as it was instructed to do by the governor? What was the reason for preempting that? Did this not amount to demeaning the office of the governor? Where is the great evidence of the breakdown in the ‘constitutional machinery’ in the state, as the Centre is citing? One cannot help getting the suspicion that this step has been taken because the BJP was not confident that it would be able to rustle up the numbers and have a new government installed.
What should the Centre’s steps have been? First let the government fall, and then let the efforts towards the formation of an alternative government begin. If everything failed, the Centre would have been within its rights to impose President’s Rule, morally and legally. If in doubt, the central government had only to refer to the Supreme Court judgment in the SR Bommai case in 1994. The Centre in 1989 had dismissed the Bommai government and the matter went up to the Supreme Court, which had said only a floor test could establish whether a government had a majority. Alas, this principle was given the go-by in Uttarakhand.
The decade of the 1980s was full of instances of the Centre’s high-handedness in such matters. In Haryana in 1982, though Devi Lal had the numbers, governor GD Tapase had Bhajan Lal of the Congress sworn in. The result was the ignominious defeat of the Congress five years later. The governments of Farooq Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir and NT Rama Rao too were arbitrarily dismissed in 1984.
But it was realised that if our federal structure were to be preserved, these methods would not work. Hence the Centre refrained from exercising its powers even there were indications of strong-arm tactics being resorted to in keeping the Yeddyurappa government safe in Karnataka. Eventually the BJP itself removed BS Yeddyurappa from office.
But this measure in Uttarakhand can only make things bad again.
The views expressed are personal