New Delhi: After the Uttarakhand high court set aside the imposition of President’s rule in the state, opposition political parties unequivocally welcomed the judgment and criticised the Centre for disregarding the federal structure enshrined in the Constitution. On March 27, the central government had invoked Article 356 of the Constitution to impose President’s rule a day before Chief Minister Harish Rawat, of the Congress, had to prove his majority in the assembly. The Centre’s haste in imposing President’s rule even before Rawat could prove his strength in the assembly was viewed as politically partisan by most political parties and independent observers.
While hearing Rawat’s petition against the decision, the two-judge divisional bench comprising Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice V.K. Bist ordered a floor test on April 29 and restored the state government until then. “…Article 356 has been imposed contrary to the law laid down by the apex court,” the court noted while being fiercely critical of the union government’s move.
While the Congress see the court order as vindication of its standpoint, political parties in the Left and other regional parties view the order as reinforcing Constitutional values of federalism.
“The government stands condemned and exposed for abuse of authority and brazen misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution. The government tried to destabilise a democratically elected government in pursuit of naked political opportunism. It tried to cobble together a government by encouraging defection, horse-trading and using illegal resources and money for allurement. They stand exposed. The BJP president has also talked of toppling other state governments including my state Himachal Pradesh. Is this the job of a ruling party – to plot and destabilise a government in a democracy,” Anand Sharma, Congress leader and former union minister of commerce and industry, told The Wire.
“They will face the music now. In three days, we will show them the mirror in Parliament. We have already moved the adjournment motion in the Rajya Sabha. It is listed on Monday,” he added.
To a question on whether such actions by the union government derail its slogan of cooperative federalism, Sharma said: “Where is the federalism in such actions? The PM has become the emperor and has appointed his own subedars. This is what is happening.”
The Left parties have also welcomed the judgment. “It is an excellent judgment. We have welcomed the Uttarakhand high court’s order. It is a tight slap on the face of the central government. I think it is very clearly defined in our constitutional democracy the floor test in the assembly is the only legitimate way. In an extraneous manner, the government overrode the decision of the speaker and violated the basic premise of the constitution. We feel that the HC judgment is a good corrective decision to overturn the government’s ultra vires action,” said Nilotpal Basu, member of the CPI-M’s central committee member.
“I think it will have an implication on Arunachal Pradesh’s developments too. We have always been taking principled positions on the circumstances that leads to removal of the governments. After the Supreme Court’s judgment on the S.R. Bommai case, the government’s action in Uttarakhand only shows the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government’s intense drive towards greater centralization and disregard legitimately elected governments,” he added.
The high court’s judgment has come as a relief to regional parties too. Most regional parties have historically perceived the power of the union government to invoke Article 356 as a threat to democracy and the federal structure.
Tathagata Satpathy, member of parliament and leader of the Odisha-based Biju Janata Dal, told The Wire: “I feel the HC judgment is keeping in line with the federal structure of the country. What the Narendra Modi-led government has done till now, starting from Arunachal Pradesh to Uttarakhand is highly anti-democratic and anti-federalism. All of us had doubts about its slogan of co-operative federalism but now it is proven that it was a false cry. They have no such intentions of strengthening the structure. If states are disturbed this way, then I feel that we are going back to the Indira Gandhi days when Artcle 356 was blatantly misused. I am reminded of what L.K. Advani said once that an emergency-like situation is being consciously cultivated.”
The court order has put to rest a political storm that had led to political parties, legal experts and independent observers debating the Centre’s move. The political fiasco started when nine Congress legislators defected to the BJP. The defectors were disqualified by Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal. The Congress had claimed a majority in the 71-member assembly, even after the defection. However, before the floor test could happen, President’s rule was imposed in the Uttarakhand.