When Vajpayee erred in imposing Prez rule in Bihar

When Vajpayee erred in imposing Prez rule in Bihar

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known to be a stickler of rules and thwarted any attempt to throttle democracy. But there was at least one occasion where he erred.

As prime minister, he dismissed the then Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi's government in February 1999 and imposed President’s rule after 12 Dalits were killed by upper caste ganglords in Jehanabad. This was one decision he had to revoke within a month.

It is said that personally, Vajpayee was not in favour of dismissing an elected government, but eventually gave in when the BJP’s ally the Samata Party reportedly put pressure on him to dismiss the Bihar government. Two of the Samata stalwarts, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar, were members of his Cabinet.

Rabri, who was sworn in as chief minister in July 1997, had barely completed 18 months in office when the Centre dismissed her government soon after the massacre of Dalits in February 1999.

Vajpayee was then attending the G-15 summit in Jamaica. In his absence, his deputy Lal Krishna Advani chaired the Cabinet meet and decided to impose President’s rule. Vajpayee was informed about it. Later, President K R Narayanan, who was not in New Delhi (as he was attending a meet in West Bengal), was also informed.

It is believed that Narayanan initially expressed his reservation over such a move and questioned the rationale behind imposing President’s rule in Bihar. The NDA government then hurriedly got a report prepared by Bihar Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari, who said that in the aftermath of killings, there was a deterioration in the law and order situation. “Therefore, the state government should be summarily dismissed,” said Bhandari.

As President’s Rule was imposed in Bihar, there was a huge uproar in both the Houses in New Delhi. During those days, Vajpayee enjoyed a majority in the Lok Sabha but was short of numbers in the Rajya Sabha. The proclamation (order of President’s Rule), therefore, could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha.

The President’s Rule was revoked within three weeks. And Rabri was again sworn in as chief minister in March 1999.