The Union Cabinet’s decision to recommend President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh raises questions over constitutional provisions about the use of the Article 356, the role of the governor and limits of anti-defection law. Successive governments have misused Article 356, disregarding constitutional principles and propriety.
President’s rule can be imposed in a state only if a situation has arisen in which the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. But the manner in which many governors have allowed themselves to be used as political agents of the Centre poses a threat to federalism. Unlike the President — who mostly acts on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers — governors have some discretion, including for sending reports recommending central rule.
To check the abuse of Article 356, the apex court ruled in the SR Bommai case that courts can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President regarding the breakdown of the constitutional machinery. Further, in 2006 the Supreme Court held that the governor’s report could not be accepted as “gospel truth” and must be verified by the council of ministers before being used as the basis for imposing President’s rule.
There are several factors to consider when assessing the current scenario. One may criticise Governor JP Rajkhowa for recommending President’s rule. But the fact is that Chief Minister Nabam Tuki lost majority after 21 Congress MLAs revolted against him but they cannot join hands with the BJP to form a government owing to the anti-defection law.
Further, the failure of the assembly to meet for over six months amounts to a violation of Article 174, which can be interpreted as a failure of the constitutional machinery. Many have raised questions over the Union Cabinet recommending President’s rule while the Supreme Court is seized of issues arising out of the crisis. But what the court is considering is the governor’s powers to summon the House without the advice of the council of Ministers and not the failure of the constitutional machinery.
The Congress’ petition is premature as the Cabinet’s advice to the President, and accepted by him, cannot be questioned. What can be questioned is the material on the basis of which the President records his satisfaction regarding the failure of the constitutional machinery — an eventuality that is yet to arise.