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Bihar polls as per schedule: SC

The SC has rejected the demand for revival of the dissolved assembly.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2005 19:29 IST

In a major embarrassment forruling coalition, the Supreme Court on Friday declared as "unconstitutional" President APJ Abdul Kalam's order dissolving the Bihar assembly but said the October 19-November 19 polls would go ahead as scheduled.

The Congress, which leads the coalition, put on a brave face by saying the judgement was anticipated and ruling out the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said he must quit.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, whose Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is a Congress ally and had been voted out in the February Bihar assembly poll, termed the court verdict a victory, pointing out that fresh elections and not the revival of the House had been ordered.

The BJP's allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar said they would capitalise on the verdict in the run up to the four-phased assembly polls.

The President's office said it had no comment to offer on the judgement. The President is bound by the advice of the Cabinet, which recommended the assembly be dissolved on the basis of two reports received from Bihar Governor Buta Singh.

The elections held in February this year threw up a fractured verdict with no party getting a majority. President's Rule was imposed on March 7. The House was subsequently dissolved on May 23 as no party or group staked claim to form a government.

The majority verdict by judge YK Sabharwal, heading a five-judge Constitution Bench, is a stinging rebuke for the United Progressive Alliance government, which recommended dissolution on the basis of two reports sent by Buta Singh on April 27 and May 21.These two reports, which were made public, became a subject matter of the litigation in a batch of petitions questioning the legality of the Kalam's proclamation dissolving the House.

The bench, which included judges KG Balakrishnan, BN Agrawal, Ashok Bhan and Arijit Pasayat, said many intricate and important questions of law with far- reaching impact had been addressed from both sides - the petitioners and the Central government.

Noting that the Election Commission had already notified fresh elections to constitute a new assembly, the court said: "Keeping in view the questions involved, the pronouncement of judgment with detailed reasons is likely to take some time. Therefore, at this stage, we are pronouncing this brief order as the order of the court to be followed by detailed reasons later."

The bench said that "despite the unconstitutionality of the impugned proclamation, but having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, the present is not a case where in exercise of discretionary jurisdiction the status quo ante deserves to be ordered to restore the legislative assembly as it stood on March 7, when it was kept under suspended animation."

In Chandigarh, where the Congress opened a two-day conclave of its chief ministers on Friday, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said he would comment on the verdict after getting it legally examined - but that the Government would abide by the ruling.

"It's too early to say. Any decision on this issue would be taken by the Cabinet and I cannot speak on their behalf," Patil said, adding he had only been sent the operative part of the judgement.

Congress general secretary Ambika Soni was more forthright, ruling out Manmohan Singh's resignation and declaring that the judgement was not a blow to the Government.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Congress conclave, Soni said demands for the resignation of Manmohan Singh and the Union Cabinet, which accepted the Bihar governor's report on the assembly dissolution, were politically motivated.

She also ruled out the immediate removal of Governor Buta Singh, even as Congress sources in Chandigarh indicated the party would prefer he voluntarily quit.

The sources said that a meeting of top Congress leaders - including Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi - could take place on Saturday on the sidelines of the conclave to consider the future line of action.

In New Delhi, the BJP termed the Supreme Court judgement a slap on the Government's face.

"This is a slap on the face of the UPA government. Now the Manmohan Singh government has no moral authority to stay in power," BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said.

"We have been saying all along that the decision to dissolve the Bihar assembly was illegal and politically motivated. The Supreme Court's ruling has vindicated our stand," he added.

In Patna, an upbeat NDA declared on Friday it would make the Supreme Court verdict its main campaigning point for the upcoming state elections.

"We will raise this issue in the polls to get justice from the people," NDA's chief ministerial candidate and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Nitish Kumar said.

Kumar told reporters on Friday that the Government had dissolved the assembly to prevent the NDA from forming a government in the state. Now the Supreme Court had vindicated the NDA's stand, he maintained.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad saw a victory in the verdict.

"It is our victory as the apex court has not ordered revival of the dissolved assembly and said the elections will be held as per schedule," he contended.

First Published: Oct 07, 2005 11:14 IST