Does Presidents Rule in Arunachal Pradesh Weaken Federalism?
Protest against Arunachal Pradesh Governor by the state Mahila Congress.
NEW DELHI: The sensitive border state of Arunachal Pradesh, claimed by China, has been brought into the centre of unsavoury politics with President Pranab Mukherjee acting on the Governors report to impose Presidents rule in the state despite there being a duly elected government in place. The Supreme Court has now intervened giving state Governor JP Rajhowa just “15 minutes” to produce the report he gave to the centre citing a “constitutional breakdown.”
The court told the Governors counsel : "You have given this report indicating an emergency situation as to why President's Rule needs to be imposed. So please produce the report." And despite the counsel’s plea that this would take time, the apex court gave him 15 minutes. The state Chief Minister has said that Presidents rule is “unconstitutional” and “illegal.”
The court has now given two days to the government to respond to its notice on Presidents rule in Arunachal Pradesh that remains the playground for BJP versus Congress politics despite its sensitive location and strategic importance.
Arunachal Pradesh has been targeted by the centre since last year when the central government and replaced the last Governor with Rajkhowa, a retired IAS officer from Assam.
Last December, the Governor entered a storm of protest by preponing the Assembly session in Arunachal Pradesh by a month, and moving to impeach the Speaker Nabma Rebia. The Assembly election was held at a makeshift venue and the dissidents joined the BJP in “dismissing” the Chief Minister Nabam Tuki. Rajkhowa placed himself at loggerheads with the ruling Congress party in the state, with protests and uncertainty destabilising the sensitive border state.
Governor Rajkhowa then sent in a report to the centre within days of the makeshift session, urging Presidents rule in the wake of what he insisted was a “constitutional breakdown.” The Congress went in delegation to President Mukherjee protesting against this move. He consulted with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, accepted the Governors report, and placed the border state under central rule.
The role of the Governor again comes under the spotlights with both the BJP and the Congress using this office to dismiss constitutionally elected governments. The office that was conventionally meant to accommodate learned,impartial and independent persons has been turned over the years into a ‘reward’ for political protegees of the ruling establishment with many post holders now playing a proactive role in the affairs of the state. The threat of Article 356 becomes the Damocles sword that the centre uses over the states, with the past decades recording any number of “constitutional breakdown” reports submitted by “grateful’ Governors against state Chief Ministers at the instance of the ruling dispensation at the centre.
Governor Rajkhowa is following in the more recent footsteps of Lt Governor Najeeb Jung in Delhi, brought into office by the earlier Congress government but now working in close cooperation with the BJP government at the centre. A former IAS officer who left the service early to join Reliance, Jung has been in direct confrontation with the Aam Aadmi Party and now with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal following what the latter has described as a policy of “non-cooperation”. Despite bringing out the entire arsenal, Lt Governor Jung was not able to dislodge Kejriwal but as AAP leaders maintained at the time, he did “make governance more difficult.”
Similarly the Arunachal Pradesh Governor has been directly opposing Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, using the makeshift Assembly session to “dismiss” him and then sending a report to the President for the imposition of Presidents rule.
The Governor has been accused before, and now, by the Congress as being close to the RSS, a charge that he has denied. "I am not a member of the RSS but there is nothing wrong to be a member of the RSS. It’s a good organisation," he has said in the past.
“Murder of democracy” has been the response from the Congress to Presidents rule in the state where it has been in power for almost ten years. Rahul Gandhi tweeted earlier, “Modiji you talk about federalism but murder democracy. You talk about cooperation but use every means to coerce. Imposing President's rule in Arunachal is a blatant bid to topple a duly elected Govt. The Congress Party will fight this attack on our constitution, on our democracy, on the people's mandate."
The Supreme Court ruling will play a crucial role not just in Arunachal Pradesh, but on federalism and state-centre relations per se as Governors are in place to safeguard the Constitution. And are often charged with doing the very opposite.