Congress leader Harish Rawat’s reinstatement as chief minister of Uttarakhand following a trial of strength in the assembly under the Supreme Court’s supervision has lessons for the Indian polity. As this newspaper has repeatedly stressed, the Centre’s first decision — to dismiss the state government a day before Mr Rawat was to prove his majority in the House as instructed by the governor — was an injudicious one. This amounted to undermining the offices of the governor as well as the assembly Speaker. When the Congress appealed against this in the Uttarakhand High Court, the court twice ordered a floor test, which could not take place because the Centre persisted with its legal course. Finally its case did not stand up in the Supreme Court either. As in many other cases, the BJP can only point to the number of times the Congress governments resorted to such things. But, as two wrongs do not make a right, this will not wash with the people.
The government’s action had brought in its train many legal-constitutional questions that shall be debated in future. The most important of those has been the two-member bench’s quashing of the presidential order dismissing the Uttarakhand government. It raised the question whether any court had the powers to quash a presidential proclamation. Next, the two-member bench also rapped the Centre by asking its counsel whether it was not striking at the root of democracy by dismissing an elected government. With the SR Bommai judgment — stating that only a floor test could decide whether a government had the confidence of the assembly or not — being there, it is inexplicable as to why the Centre took this action, more so, with the assembly elections in Uttarakhand less than a year away.
Finally comes the most serious matter of the separation of powers. Over time the executive, both the political as well as the permanent, has been failing to administer things that fall within its domain. As a result, it is the courts that are deciding on matters such as the diesel ban, medical entrance tests or the Board of Control for Cricket in India. This time even the legislature had to lean on the judiciary for managing its own affairs. However much the political parties bicker among themselves, they must understand that this tendency, visible in a strong way over the past 20 years, affects them all because they are the constituents of legislatures and governments. Unless they have a broad area of agreement and are able to lay down settled processes of functioning, all of them will be on losing ground. This is sad and ironical, because the Indian Constitution is based on legislative supremacy.