Soren's Gomango act

Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren became the second chief minster to participate in the voting in Lok Sabha on April 27. Over 11 years ago, then Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gomango created a history of sorts when he cast his vote in the Lok Sabha on April 17, 1999, in favour of the no-confidence motion against the NDA government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. His vote proved crucial as the government fell on the floor of the House by just one vote. Then BJP had taken strong exception to Gomango’s participation in the vote. Ultimately, then Speaker GMC Balayogi left it to Gomango’s conscience as he could not have asked him (Gomango) not to vote when he was still a member of Lok Sabha. Gomango participated in the vote and later justified his stand that he was bound by the party whip. While Gomango pulled down the NDA government, Shibu Soren destabilised his own government as an incensed BJP withdrew support to Soren’s government within one day.

The BJP, which traduced the Congress in 1999 for directing Gomango to participate in the no confidence vote, had no compunction in calling Shibu Soren to vote for the cut motion.
The BJP distanced itself from Soren after he sprang a surprise by voting in favour of the government betraying his alliance partner, but again lapped him up once the carrot of chief ministerial chair was dangled before it. Apart from being immoral, the BJP acted unwisely by calling Soren to Delhi. Cut motions have never been passed in Lok Sabha and this time too it never appeared that the scale was so evenly balanced that even one vote could tilt it.

It is a question of propriety, not of technicality. The Indian parliament is not supreme or sovereign like the British parliament. Barring some exceptions, state legislatures are autonomous and sovereign like parliament. Soren is a member of one sovereign body (Lok Sabha) while he heads a state government which is responsible to another sovereign body, the state legislative assembly. By virtue of being the chief minister he has been participating in the proceedings of the Vidhan Sabha even without being its member. So, he participated in the proceedings of two sovereign bodies simultaneously.
It was a repeat of what Gomango did earlier. Now imagine a situation that the Union government dismisses the Jharkhand government and imposes President’s rule. Now will Soren come and cast his vote on the motion in parliament which has to ratify the dismissal? If yes, then will not militate against the basic principle of natural justice that nobody can be a judge in his own cause?

The Constitution provides that any one can be appointed minister, chief minister or even prime minister for a period of six months but s/he has to get elected to the respective House within that period in order to continue in that post. This was done to obviate the technical requirement which could prevent competent people from getting these posts even though it is in public interest. In Nepal, this provision of six months applies only to ministers and not the prime minister. That is why, in 1991, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai could not become prime minister again after losing the election despite his immaculate career and support from different cross sections.

Dual membership

In India, there is no provision of dual membership of the legislature. If a member of one House is elected for another House, then s/he has to relinquish the membership of either House within 14 days. Only once dual membership was allowed when members of provincial legislatures were made eligible for becoming members of the Constituent Assembly also. When the Central Assembly was converted into the Constituent Assembly for framing the constitution, it was decided to have as many representatives from states as were in the Central Assembly. This number was divided among all provinces in proportion of their population. Under the provision of dual membership, MLAs were elected members of the Constituent Assembly also, and all chief ministers, several ministers and even speakers. This was done to give a voice to states in the shaping of the Constitution. They were not supposed to make or unmake the government as it was a national government in which representatives of all parties including the Muslim League and the Justice Party were accommodated in the cabinet. As soon as the Constitution was adopted on Nov 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly was converted into the Provisional Parliament and representatives with dual membership vacated their seats.
Elections were held for those vacant seats and dual membership was barred. However, MPs who become chief ministers seem to be enjoying dual membership. Some provisions spring up from the rich soil of necessity but the technicality should not be enlarged to the extent that its very spirit is subverted.

The Speakers’ conference should take up this issue and if a resolution is passed that a chief minister or minister in a state will not be allowed to vote in parliament, then such a member will be debarred from voting by the presiding officer, and the whip will not apply to him. In fact, whip is not a fully democratic method to discipline members. In western democracies, representatives exercise a ‘free mandate’, where as in Communist-dominated countries, the rule is that of the ‘imperative mandate’ which subordinates the representative totally to the party hierarchy. In both Germany and France, this principle of ‘free mandate’ has been incorporated in the Constitution. Article 27 of the French Constitution is categorical that any imperative mandate to a member of parliament is null and void. President De Gaulle took recourse to this article for justifying his refusal to call a special session of parliament in 1960. However, in the Indian context, whip is essential to some extent otherwise horse trading will finish democracy.

There is a need to debar chief ministers from voting in parliament by consensus or by law. Earlier, the situation did not arise as states had strong leaders and MPs or ministers from the Centre did not go back to the state as chief minister. The first instance of an MP becoming chief minister is that of Prakash Chandra Sethi who went to Madhya Pradesh in January 1972 when he was an MP. Now it often happens.

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