SC puts an end to U'khand farce

The outcome of the floor test in Uttarakhand, where the Harish Rawat government has come out victorious, is a setback to the BJP and the Central government. The Centre’s actions in the state were politically wrong and constitutionally unsound, and were judicially disapproved in no uncertain terms. The government also earned censure from the court, apart from strong criticism from the non-partisan sections of the public. The Centre created a political crisis by encouraging defections from the Congress, created situations where a free and fair test of strength of the government was not possible and then used Article 356 to dismiss a government which had not been proved to have lost its majority.

The courts had to intervene to restore the democratic and constitutional imperatives which had been flouted. The politicking and uncertainty of the last 2 months have affected governance and administration in the state, and besmirched the image of all players, especially the Central government.

The Supreme Court was also, to an extent, responsible for the prolongation of the crisis, though it was on its orders that the floor test was finally held. It had first rejected petitions against the imposition of the President’s Rule and later postponed the floor test. But it has now been made clear that the Bommai case judgment should be the inviolable guideline for Central governments in dealing with states. It bans the test of a chief minister’s majority in Raj Bhavans or in New Delhi, and dictates that it should only be held in the Assembly. Article 356 was not meant to be used in politically manufactured situations to axe state governments. The indiscriminate use of the article had come down after the Bommai case judgment in 1994. But the Narendra Modi government revived the practice of its misuse, first in Arunachal Pradesh and then in Uttarakhand. The hard rap on its knuckles should now discourage it from more of such constitutional misadventures elsewhere. Himachal Pradesh and Manipur were also thought to be on the hit list of the government. Hopefully, it will respect the Constitution and practise its claimed respect for federalism in future.

It is unfortunate that the judiciary had to go so far as to supervise the functioning of a legislature by creating the conditions for a vote, decide how the voting is done and then declare the results. This is the prerogative of the Speaker. This could have been avoided if the legislature and the executive had decided to act correctly and within the bounds of the Constitution. As for Uttarakhand, the best political course is fresh elections, after the recent convulsions.

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