The Union cabinet recommended President’s rule in crisis-hit Arunachal Pradesh on Sunday, a move that triggered a fresh slugfest with the Congress which ruled the northeastern state calling the decision an act of “political intolerance”.
A senior government official 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.
The Congress dismissed the BJP-led Centre’s so-called compulsion to intervene.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who is the counsel for the state government, targetted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the crisis, calling him the “fountainhead” of political intolerance. He said the party would challenge in court the cabinet’s recommendation if it gets the President’s nod.
“The government has taken a wrong step. There cannot be possibly any wrong step than this. The governor had embarrassed himself and now the government is embarrassing itself. They will pay a heavy price,” he said.
The former law minister said the government has taken the step because it knew it would fail in the Supreme Court. “It took the step despite knowing well that the decision on President’s rule cannot get approval of Parliament since they do not have the majority in the Rajya Sabha,” Sibal said.
“This is an act of political intolerance by the government which talks of cooperative federalism.”
A surprised chief minister Nabam Tuki blamed governor Jytoi Prasad Rajkhowa for recommending central rule without consulting the state cabinet at a time there were several related cases pending in the Supreme Court.
“This is really shocking as the Centre did not consult the state government before taking such a harsh decision. Arunachal is absolutely peaceful without even a single case of law and order breakdown reported in the past month,” said Tuki, the first Christian chief minister of the state.
Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal joined the tirade against the Centre, calling the decision a murder of the Constitution. “Union Cab recommending Prez rule in Arunachal shocking …. BJP lost elections. Now acquiring power thro back door,” he tweeted.
But the government official clarified that the last valid session of the state assembly was called on July 6 for 15 days. “The validity of the session on December 16 and 17 by deputy speaker TN Thongdok has been questioned by Supreme Court and it has yet to take a call on it. The six-month deadline expired on January 19 and a constitutional crisis was created. This necessitated the Centre’s intervention,” he said.
Governor Rajkhowa has been accused of creating the turmoil in the northeastern state at the behest of the BJP.
Arunachal Pradesh was rocked by a political crisis on December 16 last year when 21 Congress MLAs joined hands with 11 of the BJP and two Independents to “impeach” assembly speaker Nabam Rebia at a makeshift venue. The move was branded “illegal and unconstitutional” by the Speaker.
Altogether 27 MLAs in the 60-member assembly, including chief minister Tuki and his ministerial colleagues, boycotted the proceedings.
Government sources argued that if the top court, which has referred petitions on the Arunachal Pradesh crisis to a constitution bench, considers as valid the December assembly session at a community hall in Itanagar it will mean the state’s Congress government is in a minority and it is not allowing a floor test of its strength to happen.
Again, if the court rules the session as invalid then it amounts to a constitutional breakdown because the six-month rule was breached. “Therefore, in either case, the state is heading for a constitutional crisis,” a source said.
Constitutional experts saw nothing wrong in the Centre’s move if the assembly failed to meet in more than six months.
“The Union council of minister is well within its power to advise President’s rule as there is sufficient ground to conclude that the constitutional machinery has failed in the state,” former Lok Sabha secretary general PTD Achari said. “There is nothing unusual or extraordinary in the Opposition criticising the move.”
Earlier, high court Justice Hrishikesh Roy observed prima facie the governor’s decision to advance the assembly session to December 16 for taking up the impeachment proceedings against the Speaker was in “violation of Article 174 and 175 of the Constitution”.