'Very, Very Serious for Our Democracy,' if Guv Uses Powers to Precipitate Fall of Elected Govt: CJI

Relatedly, the Modi government in parliament denied any plans to amend Article 155, to make the opinion of the chief minister of a state material when appointing the state’s governor.

New Delhi: In important observations in the matter of the Shiv Sena split in the Supreme Court, on March 15 (Wednesday) the apex court said that Governors would be seriously undermining democracy if they were to misuse their constitutional office to call for a trust vote, citing dissension within a ruling political party – especially if this would precipitate the fall of a legitimately established and functioning government.

“A Governor must be aware of the fact that his very calling for a trust vote may precipitate the loss of majority for a government. Calling for a trust vote may itself lead to the toppling of a government…Governors must not lend their offices for effectuating a particular result… The Governor cannot enter into any area by which his action would precipitate the fall of a government,” Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a Constitution Bench, observed, according to The Hindu.

The reference was to the then and now former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s call for a trust vote on the floor of the House. This went on to lead to the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government last year.

Also read: President’s Rule in Maharashtra: How Constitutional were Governor Koshyari’s Actions?

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the Governor’s office, argued that there was a serious difference of opinion within the Shiv Sena, between the Eknath Shinde faction and the Thackeray one. The Shinde camp had felt that Thackeray had gone against the party’s central tenets by forming an alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition.

To this, Chief Justice Chandrachud remarked, “They [Shinde group] had a remedy then…They could have voted their leader out. But can the Governor say there is dissension about certain aspects of the leadership and a trust vote is called for? This was a government which had already established its majority in the House. It was a functioning government. Can the Governor, I ask again, use his powers to precipitate the fall of an elected government? This is very, very serious for our democracy.” 

As the Solicitor General continued his arguments, saying that a democratically elected leader should enjoy the confidence of the House during his entire tenure else there may be “complete tyranny”.

“Mr. Mehta, people may ditch their government, but the trouble starts when Governors become willing allies by calling for a trust vote. They give sanctity to the actions of such people… This is a very sad spectacle in democracy,” Chief Justice Chandrachud is reported to have responded.

The term “aaya Ram, gaya Ram“, which originated in 1960-70s “to describe the frequent spectacle of floor-crossing and horse trading in politics”, as per LiveLaw, was injected into the proceedings by senior advocate Kapil Sibal while arguing for the Uddhav Thackeray faction. 

“We are back to ‘aaya Ram gaya Ram,’ why? Because you say now your political affiliation doesn’t matter, what matters is numbers. Democracy isn’t about numbers. What the legislators, speakers, governors recognise is the political party. And you’re a member of the political party. Nothing less, nothing more. ‘My identity is associated with my party. I have no separate identity.’ If such tendencies are allowed, even a minority can topple a government”.

Article 155 in parliament

Meanwhile, the Union government has said that it wouldn’t initiate any steps to amend Article 155 of the constitution for incorporating the proposal enunciated in the Justice R.S. Sarkaria Commission Report that governors should be appointed after consultation with the chief minister of respective states.

Replying to a question tabled by CPI(M) MP John Brittas, the Home Ministry said that “the government is of the view that the practice of consultation with state CM may be followed as a matter of convention, and there is no need to amend Article 155 of the Constitution,” according to the New Indian Express.