Restore constitutiol propriety in Aruchal
Aruchal Pradesh is likely to have a new government soon, but whether that will end instability in the frontier State is a moot point. Chances are that the country’s first supposedly Congress government backed by the BJP will take over reins in Itagar. Rebel Congress leader Kalikho Pul has already staked claim to form the government with 23 rebel Congress, 11 BJP and 2 Independent MLAs reportedly backing him. So Pul ostensibly has the numbers in a House of 60 reduced to 58, but it all depends whether a proper floor test is conducted. This is important, for far too many constitutiol improprieties have been committed in Aruchal in the past two months, with Raj Bhawan in the eye of the storm. There have been unprecedented, even bizarre, happenings like the bam Tuki government ordering Assembly lockdown to keep out dissident and opposition MLAs, who in turn held parallel sessions at makeshift venues to ‘impeach’ the Speaker and ‘vote out’ the Chief Minister. These in turn have raised complicated legal questions exercising the Gauhati High Court and Supreme Court presently. Meanwhile, the ugly Congress vs BJP political battle raised the heat in New Delhi even as tribal sentiments boiled over onto the streets of Itagar. The NDA government at the Centre cited severe deterioration of law and order as one of the reasons for clamping President’s Rule in Aruchal, which the Congress has vehemently denied. Whether law and order will be a headache or not, what the incoming government will certainly have to grapple with is restoring fincial order. The allegations of corruption and lack of development in Aruchal have been too widespread for more than a year to ignore.
There are other imponderables which the courts will have to resolve over the coming days. The crisis in Aruchal was triggered by a December 9 order of Governor JP Rajkhowa, invoking his powers under Article 174 (1) of the Constitution to bring forward the assembly session from its scheduled date of January 14 to December 16 last. He also sent a message to the House that its composition will be unchanged, which signified that Speaker bam Rebia’s earlier order to disqualify 14 ‘rebel’ Congress MLAs stood null and void. In fact, the first business of the House was to be the removal of the Speaker as per the notice given by the rebel MLAs. So the legal question was about the Governor not consulting the Chief Minister and his cabinet but using his ‘constitutiol discretion’ to go about this course of action. Was the Governor’s action based on sound constitutiol principles or whim? The Congress high command, putting its weight behind the Tuki faction, has alleged that the Governor acted to further BJP interests in toppling the Congress government of Aruchal. When Tuki supporters and dissidents moved the Gauhati High Court, one single judge bench stayed all disputed decisions of the Governor to be in violation of Articles 174 and 175. Subsequently, another single judge bench removed the stay order, ruling that the role of a Governor cannot be examined by the court under Article 212; as for whether he had the discretion to advance the assembly session, this bench ruled that the Governor is the sole judge of the question under Article 163(2), not the court.
Even the Supreme Court has encountered difficulties in interpreting the Governor’s role here. After ordering Governor Rajkhowa to respond why he recommended President’s rule in Aruchal, the apex court had to recall the order as ‘a mistake’, conceding that under Article 361(1), Governors have ‘complete immunity’ and are not answerable to courts for acts done in their official capacity. Now how the courts interpret the Speaker’s role and powers will be crucial, considering that in the past, some Parliament and Assembly Speakers have been very pro-active in delineating their powers vis-a-vis the courts. Did Speaker bam Rebia, brother of Chief Minister bam Tuki, act in malafide interest to disqualify rebel Congress MLAs before an assembly session, thereby bringing down the overall House numbers to ensure the Tuki government’s continued majority? Did the Deputy Speaker have the power to remove the disqualification served to him and other MLAs in rival assembly sessions? Even if the Speaker was wrong, was the Governor right in trying to forestall him and nullify his actions? These are some of the thorny issues that have arisen from the Aruchal mess. The Supreme Court’s Constitution bench has now said it has no problems with the Gauhati High Court’s interim order staying the disqualification of 14 rebel Congress MLAs by the Aruchal Speaker, while asking the High Court to expedite the fil hearing on their petitions challenging their disqualification. As of now, these ‘disqualified’ MLAs will get to vote in a floor test at the Assembly, but there will be complications if their disqualification is upheld by the High Court. In case the Supreme Court finds the imposition of President’s Rule in Aruchal to be illegal in the first place, the entire situation will go back to square one. Such complications are entirely avoidable, if constitutiol proprieties are rigorously followed at all times. Justice must not only be done for Aruchal, it must be seen to be done, if its people are to have any regard for the country’s democratic polity.