Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Political Scene

Mamidipudi Pattabhiram

            (The previous issue of TRIVENI did not carry Sri M. Pattabhiram’s feature article as his health suf­fered a serious set . We are glad that he has come with his stimulating article on the political scene.     - Editor)

The question that is upper most in the minds of everybody in the country is how long the Deve Gowda Government will last. With the CPI(M) one of the constituents of the United Front putting pressure on the Prime Minister to reverse the economic policies and the Congress (I) which is supporting the Government from outside stating that its support is going to be issue-based the question has become all the more relevant. There can be no definite answer but it seems that no one is anxious to bring about the fall of the Government for the simple reason that none is eager to face a fresh poll just now. Hence the Deve Gowda Government will continue although it cannot be said for certain that it will continue for a full term. The Congress (I) whose support is vital is in two minds but possibly some time later when it feels that it is not going to be worse off if there is a fresh poll it may withdraw its support which means that the Deve Gowda Government will fall. In fact the present Government strictly speaking has no right to function and Mr. Deve Gowda is just not the right person to hold this high office or Prime Minister. He himself had admitted that he became Prime Minister by accident and so far his performance is nothing spectacular. Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao by comparison had done extremely well and his economic policies have paid rich dividends. It is just as well that the present Government is continuing his policies and it is this that is really irking the CPI(M). It is unfortunate that a person of the calibre of Mr. Rao is not available to lead the country.

In this review I propose to take up two or three subjects of importance and deal with them. The scene in Uttar Pradesh which is the most populous State is indeed murky and the ugly quarrel between the Union Home Minister and the Governor does not really enhance the prestige of either. The absence of a popular Government even after the elections to the State Assembly were conducted is a matter for regret. There is a sense of helplessness and the imposition of President’s rule is now a matter before the Supreme Court which has to decide whether it has rightfully imposed or not. Judicial activism has reached a new high and all issues - even political - are being disposed of by the Courts. Whether it is a healthy trend or not is a matter for introspection by the people although several wrongs have been rectified in the process.

FOR a person who had been the Prime Minister of the country for an uninterrupted period of five years even though he started without his party commanding a majority in the Lok Sabha, the legal web in which Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao is now stuck is indeed a sorry spectacle. Luck has run out for him and the murky cases in which he is alleged to have been involved have reduced him to the position of a petty politician who will have to strive hard to get out of the muddle in which he finds himself. It is sad to see that so astute a politician as Mr. Rao is charged with having used some questionable means to keep himself in power although the charges against him are yet to be proved. Yet the fact is that as one who did not even want to entertain within the fold leaders of the calibre of Mr. Madhavrao Scindia, Mr. Balram Jakhar and Mr. Kamal Nath as they were all hawala tainted and strongly urged that the law will take its course, Mr. Narasimha Rao is himself in trouble having been implicated in a cheating case as well. Mr. Rao perhaps could not read the writing on the wall nor did he realise that the day of reckoning had come for him too. The Congress (I) which is the single largest party next only to the BJP in Lok Sabha of which he was the leader has now a new person, Mr. Sitaram Kesri, who is also the new President of the Congress (I) to guide its destinies. Mr. Rao had to quit as President of the Congress (I) following pressure from a local section of the dissidents who had insisted that with more than one case being registered against him he could not continue in that high post. Even as he resigned he insisted that he committed no wrong but that is now a matter that has to be decided by courts. His alleged involvement in the JMM bribery case which came to light recently did not add to his prestige. If money changed hands so that some JMM members could be purchased to vote for him in the no-confidence motion against him this could be the most heinous crime that a person in power could ever have committed. Of course this too will have to be proved and the CBI is vigorously working in the case. For sure Mr. Rao is going to have a tough task ahead in clearing his name. But the entire proceedings and the large number of cases in which he is implicated are going to take considerable time to reach a finality. All this puts a big question mark on the political future of Mr. Rao although at one time it looked as if he had a very firm grip over his party and nothing would shake him from the well entrenched position in which he was placed. If he had put his partymen in a spot when the going was good, today he is at the receiving end. All this emphasises the need for some kind of a non-vexatious mechanism to deal with persons in high positions even when they are in power so that there could bean effective check on their conduct at the initial stage itself. Mr. Rao could also have avoided the problems to which he is now subjected if there was some built-in authority to call even a Prime Minister to order at the appropriate time. Sounding of warning bells at the right time could be an effective way restraining those in authority and thus save them from the ignominy of facing courts and their whole world coming crashing down once they are out of power. Politics would also be the much purer for it and politicians more accountable.

About Article 356 of the Constitution, Mr. Indrajit Gupta, who now holds the Home portfolio in the Union Government, rightly said that it was not advisable to do away, with the provision, for an emergency situation might still arise where complete breakdown of law and order might occur making it necessary to invoke it. In fact at the Standing Committee meeting of the Inter-State Council there was no consensus on what changes need to be effected in the Article to make it more acceptable. But one thing stands out clear. There was total unanimity that the Article should not be misused for political purposes or benefits. If in the past this basic truth had been realised there would have been far fewer occasions for the imposition of President’s rule in the States. Even when the Article was being discussed in the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Ambedkar had given the warning that the Central “invasion” must not be one that was wanton, arbitrary and unauthorised by law.

The classic case was in 1991 when the Karunanidhi Government in Tamil Nadu was sacked overnight and President’s rule imposed leaving many to wonder whether such action was not motivated by extra-Constitutional considerations. The Centre for sure acted without valid cause against the State Government purely for political gain, thus raising doubts all over about the advisability of retaining the Article in the form in which it exists today. Much earlier when the Janata Government came to power it dismissed several Congress (I) State Govemments on the ground that the scale of the Janata victory at the national level required a renewal of the mandate of the States. This was repeated by Mrs. Indira Gandhi when she returned to power at the national level.

The law on the subject of Central rule was well and truly laid by the Supreme Court in the Bommai case and that indeed should provide the necessary guidelines for Presidential takeover of States on the ground of failure of the Constitutional machinery. The apex court had then observed that the Government led by Mr. S.R. Bommai was dismissed on the basis of material which was neither tested nor allowed to be tested. The action was all the more objectionable since as a Constitutional functionary the Governor was expected to conduct himself more fairly, cautiously and with circumspection. Strong words these, and the apex court further said that in all cases of claims of legislators withdrawing support to a Ministry the proper course was to test the Ministry’s strength in the Assembly “which is the sole Constitutionally ordained forum to test claims and counter claims”. It passes one’s comprehension why this healthy principle was treated with scant respect thus bringing to contempt the very Article itself. More recently, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Romesh Bhandari, advised imposition of President’s man even without really exploring the possibilities of forming a popular Government with the result that the newly elected Assembly is in a state of suspended animation; As the Supreme Court had observed, the assessment should not be a matter of private opinion of any individual, whether the Governor or the President. The Sarkaria Commission did go into the matter and said that the use of the power under Article 356 will be improper if no warming or opportunity is given to the State Government concerned. The Standing Committee should take up in right earnest the suggestion made by the Commission that an erring State Government must first be warned and specific steps outlined which would prevent the situation developing into one in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. This is bound to prevent any action that might be termed arbitrary. Nor is there going to be a surprise when the State passes under Presidential dispensation.

The view expressed by the Uttar Pradesh Governor, Mr. Romesh Bhandari, that a popular government would come into being only after the Supreme Court gave its judgment on the issue now pending before it would suggest that he is not prepared to make any effort right now to install a ministry in the State. In fact, the Supreme Court itself had said while passing the interim orders staying the Allahabad High Court judgment quashing the Presidential proclamation reimposing President’s rule in the State that it (interim order) would not preclude the formation of a popular government in the State if possible or the Governor to explore the possibility of forming a popular government. Mr. Bhandari’s negative attitude to the issue on hand is therefore not justified either. It is unfortunate that the Governor who is the key figure in bringing into being a popular government is thus delaying the entire matter. The BJP and a few other parties have been criticising the attitude of the Governor on the ground that he had not exhausted all the means available in this direction. Of course it is a fact that what emerged after the poll was a hung Assembly and, therefore, the question of a single party forming a government on its own did not arise. There are two possibilities. One is that a single party could, if it has the support of another party even from outside, successfully form a ministry. The second is that two or more parties can work out an arrangement as a coalition to run the government.

It is clear the Mr. Bhandari at some stage gave up the attempts to explore all the possibilities and recommended the imposition of President’s rule as, according to him, there was a clear and demonstrable breakdown of the constitutional machinery. The BJP which is the largest single party was not given a chance to explore if it could form a government, and the reasoning was that the Governor was convinced that the BJP was in no position to obtain the requisite support from any other party or individuals. How exactly the Governor arrived at this assessment is not clear and the lack of transparency in this regard is a matter that should cause worry to all those who are interested in strict compliance with established democratic norms. Mr. Bhandari’s explanation that the High Court had also said that it was not obligatory under the Constitution for the Governor to invite the leader of the single largest party not in a majority is not very convincing. For the High Court has also said that the Presidential proclamation was itself vitiated.

It is another question whether the BJP could really have shown convincing proof that it could run a government that works. Yet there is an impression that the Governor had failed to hold the scales even as between the various political parties involved in ministry-making. The apex court had also indicated that a way must be found in situations of a “hung Assembly” when no political party or groups of parties were in no position to form a stable government on the ground that “we cannot have frequent elections” from time to time. The Court’s observation that new situations demand new solutions to be worked was qualified by the rider that one has to act within the scope of the relevant Constitutional provisions. One inference is that the apex court might be having in mind the proposal of the High Court that the Governor should have sought the assistance of the elected legislators by summoning the Assembly in the matter of choice of a person to be invited to form a government. It is highly improbable, apart from other technical considerations, that an Assembly elected on a party basis which is the core of parliamentary democracy would be in a position to elect a common leader. The importance of the apex court’s warning that one has to proceed cautiously while trying a new solution is very relevant.

There was an uproar in the Lok Sabha over the conflicting statements made by the Union Home Minister, Mr. Inderjit Gupta, and the Governor, Mr. Romesh Bhandari, over the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Gupta used strong words to describe the happenings in the State as when he told the Lok Sabha a few days ago that the State was heading towards “anarchy, chaos and destruction”. Considering the fact that Uttar Pradesh is right now under the Central dispensation, the Home Minister could not have made these remarks in a flippant way. The Governor, however, contradicted Mr. Gupta and said that the law and order situation in fact was the best in the last six years. He even contacted the Prime Minister and apprised him of the position. Mr. Bhandari also claimed that Mr. Deve Gowda appreciated his point of view. Thus a somewhat confrontationist posture was struck by the Governor creating the general impression that he was at loggerheads with the Union Home Minister.

Apart from the assessment of the law and order position in Uttar Pradesh the question that is uppermost in everybody’s mind is whether it is right on the part of the Governor to contradict his own. Home Minister especially when the State is under President’s rule for it is generally held that it is the Home Minister that is overseeing the administration of the state. Of course, constitutionally speaking the Governor is not an “agent” of the Centre but Mr. Bhandari should have realised that in the present circumstances it would have been more appropriate for him to have first verified with the Home Minister before airing his own views on such a very important matter. If he had done this all this hullabaloo could easily have been avoided. All this aside, it is all a question of propriety. Mr. Bhandari has no doubt been a controversial figure from the time he was appointed Governor and it was then stated that the Prime Minister did not consult the Home Minister when his name was proposed for the gubernatorial post. It is precisely for this reason that some leaders seem to think that Mr. Bhandari had gone out of his way to contradict Mr. Gupta, with impunity. It is very difficult to verify this fact but it would have been appropriate for Mr. Bhandari not to throw caution to the winds when a sensitive issue is involved.

And yet that is no reason for recalling the Governor as has been demanded by the BJP which has its own axe to grind. The BJP is angry with Mr. Bhandari for not giving it a chance to explore the formation of a Government in the State although it emerged as the single largest party after the recent poll. Nor has Mr. Bhandari followed the advice­ given by the Supreme Court that he could still explore the possibility of installing a popular government even though the order imposing President’s rule in the State was challenged. The BJP is in a very unenviable position unable to get the support of any other group in its efforts to convince the Governor it could form a government. Hence Mr. Bhandarri has not obliged the BJP although it would have been more in accordance with established conventions to give the leader of the single largest party an opportunity to explore the possibility of forming a government.

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