In a setback to the Congress, the Supreme Court cleared the decks on Thursday for the formation of a new government in Arunachal Pradesh by vacating its order to maintain the status quo.
The order brightened the chances for Congress dissidents to cobble together a majority in the northeastern border state with the help of BJP and Independent members in the 60-strong assembly as the top court refused to interfere with a Gauhati high court order staying the disqualification of 14 rebel MLAs.
After going through the Gauhati HC order and assembly records regarding the disqualification of 14 rebel Congress MLAs, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by justice JS Khehar said, “We don’t see any reason to interfere with the high court order at this stage.”
“Prima facie we are not inclined to interfere with the high court order; we are satisfied with it,” the bench, also comprised of justices Dipak Misra, MB Lokur, PC Ghose and NV Ramana, said while vacating the status quo order passed on Wednesday.
It transferred the disqualification case from a single judge to a division bench of the Gauhati HC and asked it to decide the matter in two weeks. However, the bench made it clear that any further action would be subject to the outcome of the matter pending before it.
The Union cabinet had on Wednesday decided to recommend revocation of President’s rule in the state but within hours the Supreme Court ordered that status quo be maintained till it examined records on the disqualification of the 14 rebel MLAs.
On Monday, 32 MLAs led by Congress dissident Kalikho Pul called on Rajkhowa to stake claim to form a government. They comprised 19 Congress rebels, 11 BJP legislators and two Independent members.
Arunachal Pradesh descended into chaos in December when 21 of the ruling Congress’s 47 MLAs rebelled and 11 BJP legislators backed them in a bid to pull the rug from under the Nabam Tuki government. Later, the 14 rebel Congress MLAs were disqualified. The governor then called an assembly session in which the deputy speaker revoked the disqualification of the 14 and removed the speaker. The state finally came under central rule on January 26.
In a last-ditch effort, the Congress tried to pacify the rebels but they remained insistent on Tuki’s removal as the legislature party leader. Earlier, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi met the dissidents and assured them their “genuine grievances” would be addressed. Later, senior leaders Kamal Nath and Salman Khurshid held negotiations with them but those failed, too.
The Congress refused to accept the demand to replace Tuki as chief minister as it would set a wrong precedent, sources said. Tuki is said to have the support of 26 MLAs.
The Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions against the imposition of President’s rule in the state and examining the scope of the discretionary powers of governors.