An unprecedented political if not constitutiol crisis has gripped Aruchal Pradesh. The happenings in Itagar have been so bizarre that the court now needs to take a hand. Serious questions of law have been raised with the issue rocking Parliament and reaching the President. The Congress is loudly protesting ‘murder of democracy’ in Aruchal, training its guns against the Governor for ‘destabilising’ its government there. In the last couple of days, the state has had two ‘legislatures’ passing motions against each other, two Congress factions ‘disqualifying’ each other with the Speaker on one side and the deputy Speaker on the other, ‘two chief ministers’ breathing fire against each other with their supporters battling it out in the streets. Such developments bear ominous portents to the way the country’s democratic and federal polity is being perceived in this frontier state. It is therefore a timely intervention by the Gauhati High Court to order a stay on the entire proceedings so as to allow matters to cool down. However, the latest events prove once again how partisan politics can result in diametrically opposite readings of constitutiol provisions and the law. The trouble in Aruchal has been brewing for quite some time, with the ruling Congress racked by dissidence. The battle lines were drawn with the loyalist faction owing allegiance to Chief Minister bam Tuki and the rebels to Kalikho Pul. The Tuki government began facing a serious threat to its existence as the dissident camp grew in numbers. Last month, the Tuki loyalist MLAs gave a notice for removing the deputy Speaker, accusing him of anti-party activities. Soon afterwards, MLAs from the opposition BJP gave a notice for removal of the Speaker.
Matters came to a head after Governor JP Rajkhowa brought forward the winter session of the Assembly by almost a month from its scheduled date of January 14 to December 16. In his message, the Governor cited Article 175 (2) of the Constitution which deals with a ‘bill pending in the Legislature or otherwise’, and which stipulates the House to consider any matter required by the message with all convenient dispatch. The Governor also invoked Article 181(1) to summon the Assembly session to decide on the resolution to remove the Speaker. Chief Minister Tuki then led a delegation to the Governor, demanding that he should withdraw his order. When the Governor went ahead, the Speaker ordered the Itagar administration to block entry to the Assembly compound. When rebel Congress and BJP MLAs were prevented from entering the Assembly on the first day of the pre-poned session, with Tuki loyalist MLAs confronting them at the entrance, the situation turned ugly. Police had to clear the area around the Assembly by firing tear gas shells to disperse supporters of the two warring Congress factions. As many as 20 of the 47 Congress MLAs then joined forces with 11 BJP and two Independent MLAs at a community centre in harlagun on Wednesday to ‘impeach’ Speaker bam Rebia, brother of Chief Minister Tuki and his close confidante. When Tuki supporters later vandalised the venue, the 34 opposing MLAs shifted to a hotel to pass a no-confidence motion on Thursday against Chief Minister Tuki and extend support for Kalikho Pul as the ‘new Chief Minister’. Deputy Speaker T Norbu Thongdok, who chaired this parallel session, later justified this ‘composite floor test’ where members irrespective of party affiliation could participate in no-confidence motion against the government, citing a precedent set by the Supreme Court in the case of Kalyan Singh and Jagadambika Pal in the UP Assembly.
Rejecting all resolutions passed in this parallel session as unconstitutiol and illegal, the Tuki government has contended that the deputy Speaker ‘does not have any power to sit over in appeal and quash decisions of the Speaker as he himself has been disqualified’. It has also justified the ‘disqualification’ of the 14 rebel Congress MLAs ‘since they had voluntarily given up their membership’, and that the MLAs once disqualified cannot be reinstated by the deputy Speaker. Citing constitutiol law as well as Assembly rules and procedure, the Tuki government has argued that the place for holding an Assembly session can only be the Vidhan Sabha and that the ‘former deputy Speaker has no constitutiol power to hold Assembly session at any place he deems fit’. With the Gauhati High Court now staying the Governor’s order, all resultant proceedings will also remain in abeyance as the court takes up the whether the Governor’s power to address and send messages to the Assembly related only to pending Bills but not to resolutions of the members of the House, whether he was bound by the advice of bam Tuki’s council of ministers regarding calling of the Assembly session. The Congress has meanwhile accused the rendra Modi government of using the Governor’s office to engineer a split in the party in Aruchal and bring the BJP to power there. The BJP on its part has stoutly denied any such designs, claiming that it wants to put an end to the ‘corruption and mismagement’ of the Tuki regime. However, Aruchal has been a witness to such unsavory happenings in the past when Gegong Apang split from the Congress, formed the United Democratic Front and then merged with the BJP in 2003 to form the saffron party’s first government in the frontier state. However, tiol parties in Delhi need to consider the bad precedent created in Jammu Kashmir in 1984, when the Congress government at the Centre toppled Farooq Abdullah’s tiol Conference government by allying with GM Shah’s dissident faction. That was the point when Kashmiris began hating Delhi durbar politics. The mistake must not be repeated in Aruchal Pradesh which Chi has long been trying to bring under its shadow.