Dismissing Harish Rawat’s regime in Dehradun under Article 356 of the Constitution appears to be yet another addition to the catalogue of constitutional sins committed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government at the Centre.
By doing so, Modi has followed the footsteps of the Congress reign at the centre. Yet, he had promised a different kind of polity.
The provisions of the Article 356 — giving sweeping powers to the central government — is essentially aimed at restoring constitutional propriety after breakdown of governance in a state, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer had once observed.
But settling partisan scores seems to have become the order of the day under the present disposition.
Abuse of Article 356, though, is nothing new in Indian politics. A few BJP leaders have tried to build up an argument that the Congress had no business to talk about constitutional decorum as the grand old party had several times dismissed non-Congress governments across the country and era.
“Congress is forgetting how many state governments it has dismissed in the last 60 years,” Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kailash Vijayvargiyasaid.
In 1992-93, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government at the Centre dismissed four BJP governments — in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh — following the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6.
After the Rao regime dismissed the Nagaland government led by Vamuzo in 1992, the chief minister said that the imposition of President’s Rule did not surprise him. “After all, the Congress has always considered itself as imperial power and treated the states as colonies,” the late Vamuzo was quoted as having said.
In 2005, during Manmohan Singh’s regime, Goa Chief Minister Manohor Parrikar — now the Defence Minister — was dismissed by Governor S.C. Jamir.
Incidentally in 1990, Jamir, then Nagaland Chief Minister, was himself dismissed by Governor M. M. Thomas after 12 ruling Congress legislators defected from the Congress camp.
Like Rawat, Jamir had demanded trial of strength in the assembly and had managed the backing of the Speaker, late T.N. Ngullie.
However, Governor Thomas, during the V.P. Singh regime at the Centre did not summon the assembly and had even declined to meet two Congress observers, Rajesh Pilot and S.S. Ahluwalia, saying the views of Congress MPs were not required on a political situation in Nagaland.
Even a government led by hardcore socialist Chandrashekhar at the Centre was no different. In 1990, it dismissed the DMK ministry of M. Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, despite lack of any adverse report from the state governor, to seek support from Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress which was wooing Karunanidhi’s rival, J. Jayalalitha of the AIADMK.
Ironically, the Congress party is now at the receiving end of the imperial character of governance, protesting “murder of democracy”.
That brings to fore the debate whether Article 356 allowing the Centre to dismiss state governments should have some legal restraints.
By its action, the Modi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party have put other Congress governments — in Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Karnataka on notice — that it will practice the same art that the regime before it did.
Modi may do well to recall that the 2014 the mandate was also about ushering in change in way of politics.
Voters may have hoped that a proponent of development would care about constitutional propriety since the BJP is fond of talking about “Cooperative Federalism” with the states.
But their action in Uttarakhand, and Arunachal Pradesh, seems to have belied that hope.
(Nirendra Dev can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)