A proposed visit to West Bengal by a fact finding team of the union home ministry is intended to assist the state government maintain law and order and not to invoke Article 356, Home Minister P Chidambaram assured MPs here Monday. Article 356 is invoked to impose president's rule in a state.
"There is no scope for invoking Article 356. It (the central teams' proposed visit to West Bengal) should not e viewed through the prism of Article 356. It is to assist the state government," Chidambaram said in Lok Sabha as the house discussed the matter briefly during zero hour.
The home minister said many districts in West Bengal had been witnessing violent clashes between political parties since June 18.
Chidambaram, who said that he had a good working relationship with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, added that he had suggested to the chief minister "a team of officials from centre be sent to the state for discussions with his team of bureaucrats".
"This step is entirely non-confrontational," the minister stated and added that this was "for putting an end to the political clashes."
Participating in the discussion, Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani cautioned the central government on invocation of Article 356.
"Don't do it lightly. It is a very serious matter," said Advani who also slammed the Left parties for supporting the then central government in 1992 to invoke Article 356 in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states after the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya.
Terming the government's decision to send a central team to the state as an "unprecedented" and "unconstitutional" move, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta said law and order is a state subject and no central team had been sent to any other state so far.
If the central government feels there is a breakdown in West Bengal, "let them promulgate Article 356. We shall face it in the streets," Dasgupta said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Basudeb Acharia said the central government should desist from interfering in the state's affairs.
Without naming Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee who is demanding president's rule in West Bengal, Acharia alleged that the central government's move was to please a minister.
Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said his party wanted invocation of Article 356 in West Bengal, accusing the Marxist-led government of supporting "terrorism".
Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said an "all party meeting" should be convened to discuss the issue.
"If this happens in West Bengal today, it can happen to any other state. It is very dangerous," he said.
Earlier, the house witnessed protest by the Left parties over the issue. They advanced towards the speaker's podium twice.
The home minister made the same assurances in the Rajya Sabha, after protests by the opposition, principally the Left parties, forced two adjournments of the house.
But Chidambaram's reply didn't entirely satisfy the opposition, with Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M apprehending that the central team's visit was a precursor to the "misuse" of Article 356.
"I want an assurance that the team will visit (specific spots) only in consultation with the state government," Yechury demanded.
Leader of Opposition in the upper house, Arun Jaitley of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spoke much in the same vein, holding that the issue had to do with the federal system of governance.
"The house would like to be assured that the visit (of the central team) is not at the behest of one of the alliance partners (of the ruling UPA coalition)," Jaitley said.
The objections to the central team's visit had begun immediately when the house assembled, with Yechury objecting to the move, saying it was violative of the constitution.
"Sir, we normally don't demand that question hour be suspended but this is a grave constitutional matter and needs to be discussed," he contended.
"You can raise it during zero hour," Chairman Hamid Ansari told him but Yechury continued his protests.
Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan said he would convey the feelings of the party to Chidambaram and ask him to make a statement.
"The home minister may make a statement but the fact is that sending a central team is violative of the constitution," Yechury insisted.
Left parliamentarians, led by Matilal Sarkar of the CPI-M then advanced towards the chairman's podium, forcing Ansari to adjourn the house at 11.05 a.m. for 15 minutes.
The disruptions continued after the house re-assembled and it was adjourned again till noon.