Arunachal Pradesh: Shot in the arm for Congress

Hardnews Bureau Delhi

A second court order in the span of 24 hours has given the Congress party breathing space. As the imbroglio in Arunachal Pradesh continues, the Supreme Court has restored the Congress government in the state. Stating in no uncertain terms the apex court declared that the move by Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa to call for a trust vote was unconstitutional and was liable to be quashed. The current crisis in Arunachal Pradesh started when Chief Minister Nabam Tuki dropped Health and Family Welfare Minister Kalikho Pul during a cabinet reshuffle. Pul responded to this by alleging that financial mismanagement and corruption was rampant within the Tuki government. Pul was subsequently expelled and soon became the lightning rod around which dissident MLAs congregated. Things reached a crescendo when Nebam Rabia who is a Tuki loyalist ordered the assembly premises to be locked down. The tug of war in Itanagar centers around an alleged Rs 6,000 crore scam. The Arunachal Pradesh government dismissed these allegations by saying that there is an accumulated deficit of 4,000 odd crores but no bungling had transpired.

 Rebellions against the state government have been a feature of the state’s polity since the time of Gegong Apang. The only difference this time around was the proactive role that Governor Rajkhowa played in furthering the crisis. As a bureaucrat, Rajkhowa is known as someone who always went by the rule-book. In September 2015, Rajkhowa wrote to the PM, accusing Tuki and Speaker Rebia of owning land in a plot selected for an airport, where, he alleged, they would make financial gains. In the present case, Rajkhowa allegedly called the special session without taking the CM and his ministers into confidence. He has, however, maintained that he went purely by the Constitution. No matter how defiantly the governor may dismiss any allegations of wrongdoing, it is a fact that the Supreme Court has made scathing observations against Rajkhowa for showing unnatural interests in the machinations within the assembly. Propriety demanded that Rajkhowa remain a neutral observer and allow any disputes to be resolved in appropriate constitutional forums. After all, the 14 Congress MLAs dismissed by the speaker did go to the Gauhati high court and were given the necessary relief. The apex court also severely indicted Rajkhowa for advancing the legislative assembly session from January 14, 2016, to December 16, 2015. The constitutional bench said the governor could not direct the speaker on how the proceedings should be conducted and fix the agenda for the house, such as the dismissal of the speaker as the first item. The governor should have gone entirely by the advice of the state council of ministers on summoning the assembly. Such basic tenets and procedures were thrown to the wind by a governor who was obviously not acting on his own.

The Supreme Court order is likely to have substantial repercussions in the monsoon session of the Parliament. The order is likely to unite opposition parties which have blamed the BJP for the constitutional crisis in Arunachal Pradesh and for tampering with federal relations.  With some serious egg on its face, the BJP is likely to be on the back foot throughout the monsoon session. There has been serious concern that Article 356 was being flagrantly abused by the government to dismiss legitimately elected governments.