The Modi government’s decision to recommend President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh at a time when the Supreme Court was hearing the matter has resulted in the escalation of confrontation between the ruling side and the opposition.
The issue has once again united the opposition and cast a shadow on the smooth functioning of the budget session of Parliament. The government has a heavy legislative agenda, including the goods and services tax (GST) and key labour reforms, for the session.
Earlier, the opposition had united when Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 Congress MPs for their “unruly behavior” in the monsoon session.
The Arunachal issue had also resonated in Parliament in the winter session when the government found itself at the receiving end not only from the opposition but even “friendly parties” such as the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Both these parties came out in full support of the Congress and questioned Arunachal Pradesh governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s decision to convene the assembly session without the nod of the state cabinet. Both the AIADMK and the BJD were vociferous in their demand for recall of the governor. Their strong stand on the issue had then come as a surprise to the ruling side.
Perhaps government managers must have considered that aspect before arriving at the decision to recommend President’s rule in the sensitive state bordering China. The other important factor that the government would have kept in mind is that the NDA does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha and the possibility of such a decision, even after the President’s approval, getting rejected in the upper house was quite high. For this reason, the Congress apprehends that the BJP would try to form the government in Arunachal Pradesh before the start of the budget session so that they don’t have to seek Parliament’s approval for the decision to impose President’s rule in the state.
The BJP has justified the Centre’s action, saying it had to intervene because the crisis in Arunachal Pradesh amounted to violation of the Constitution’s Article 174(1) which prescribes that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions of a state legislative assembly. But senior Congress leader and former union law minister Kapil Sibal sought to debunk that argument by referring to the BJP’s stand in the Supreme Court and the Gauhati high court. According to Sibal, the high court had held valid the session that was convened by the Governor and conducted by deputy speaker Tenzing Norbu Thongdok at a community hall in Itanagar on December 16 after speaker Nabam Rebia had ordered closure of the assembly complex. “That is the position of BJP and the Governor before the Supreme Court and the high court. So, if they feel that the session was validly held, then how can they (Centre) impose President‘s rule. This is a contradiction in itself,” he said.
But the BJP is right in pointing out that the political crisis in the state is the result of the Congress party’s internal conflict. The Congress, which has 47 MLAs in the 60-member assembly, suffered a jolt when 21 of them rebelled against chief minister Nabam Tuki. Eleven BJP MLAs backed the rebels in the bid to upstage the Congress government. Later, 14 rebel Congress MLAs were disqualified. The governor then called assembly session on December 16 in which the deputy speaker revoked disqualification of 14 rebel Congress MLAs and removed Rebia from the post of Speaker.
Stung by the move, the Congress has declared an “all-out war against the trampling of the Constitution” by the Narendra Modi government and also sought to rally round all non-BJP parties against the move in and outside Parliament.
The matter is now before the Supreme Court.
The fresh Congress plea challenging the President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh assumes significance as already a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Justice JS Khehar, is examining the scope of discretionary powers of the Governor under the Constitution in convening an assembly session without the advice of the chief minister and his council of ministers.