The elections may be the biggest story but it’s not the only important story at this moment. The controversial refusal to accept Arvind Kejriwal’s request for the dissolution of the Delhi assembly and the unfolding debate over it hasn’t got the attention it deserves. Yet it’s a constitutional issue that affects the core of our democracy.
I’m afraid the media’s lack of interest could allow the government to get away with both unconstitutional behaviour and also a possible immoral outcome. This is why this Supreme Court case is so critical. Let me explain.
When Kejriwal resigned and asked the lieutenant governor to dissolve the Delhi assembly and call fresh elections he did so as the head of a government with majority support. Proof of this is that hours earlier he had passed money bills and the Congress was still committed to supporting him. So was the lieutenant governor’s decision to refuse his request wrong?
‘Yes’ is the simple answer. By convention a majority government has a right to a dissolution whenever it wants. In these matters we follow British parliamentary practice and Mrs Margaret Thatcher dissolved early in 1983 and 1987 whilst Tony Blair did so in 2001 and 2005. So too did Indira Gandhi in 1971.
The Congress riposte is that because it extended only issue-based support, Kejriwal’s was a minority, not a majority, government. A minority government doesn’t have an undisputed right to an early dissolution. Again, this argument is wrong.
In October 1974 Harold Wilson’s six-month-old minority government sought an early dissolution and the Queen immediately granted it. Since we follow British practice that precedent applies in India as well.
The Congress, however, has a second argument too. An election 50 days after the first should be avoided if possible. Time, it claims, is needed to see if another government can be formed.
No doubt. No Parliament should be dissolved if an alternative government is possible and its viability thus established. The question is: Can another government be formed?
The answer is only if the Congress is prepared to support Harsh Vardhan and a BJP government. But that is not just unlikely, it’s almost inconceivable.
This was known the moment Kejriwal resigned. Therefore, there was no need to place the assembly in suspended animation. The passage of time will not bring the BJP and the Congress closer but only provide an opportunity for horse trading.
This is where the unconstitutional refusal to dissolve the assembly could lead to an immoral outcome. Horse trading is one of the cancers that has afflicted our democracy and it’s only come under control in recent years. Now this suspended animation provides fertile ground for it to sprout again.
Of course, both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress have expedient reasons that lie behind their constitutional positions. AAP wants to benefit once again from the support it received in December before second thoughts and frustration dissipate it. Hence, a quick dissolution and early election. The Congress wants to delay things as much as possible because it knows it cannot win and the BJP might. Hence, the refusal.
The only thing is a head of a government with majority support has a right to take expedient decisions. It may be selfish but it’s not unconstitutional. The Congress has no right to use the lieutenant governor to delay the matter. That is both selfish and unconstitutional.
Yet the Congress is getting away with this because AAP is unable to focus public attention on the issue. The Congress benefits from the media’s inexplicable silence.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)