In a major embarassment for the BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre, the Supreme Court on Wednesday restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh after scrapping all decisions taken by Governor J.P. Rajkhowa in the run-up to the fall of the Nabam Tuki ministry.
Big day for Indian democracy, says Kapil Sibal
In a major embarassment for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government at the Centre, the Supreme Court today restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh after scrapping all decisions taken by Governor J.P. Rajkhowa in the run-up to the fall of the Nabam Tuki ministry.
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court concluded that the order of the Governor dated December 9, 2015 advancing the sixth session of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly from January 14, 2016 to December 16 2015 was violative of Article 163 read with Article 174 of the Constitution of India, and as such, is liable to be quashed.
"The same is accordingly hereby quashed," the main judgement written by Mr. Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar said.
"The message of the Governor dated 9.12.2015, directing the manner of conducting proceedings during the 6th session of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, from 16.12.2015 to 18.12.2015, is violative of Article 163 read with Article 175 of the Constitution of India, and as such, is liable to be quashed. The same is accordingly hereby quashed," it said.
"All steps and decisions taken by the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, pursuant to the Governor’s order and message dated 9.12.2015, are unsustainable in view of the decisions at (i) and (ii) above. The same are accordingly set aside," it said.
"In view of the decisions at (i) to (iii) above, the status quo ante as it prevailed on 15.12.2015, is ordered to be restored," the bench, which also included Mr. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Mr. Justice N. V. Ramanna said.
Mr. Justice Dipak Misra and Mr. Justice M. M. Lokur also concurred with the judgement. However, Mr. Justice Misra added points pertaining to the interpretation of Article 179(c) of the Constitution, especially in the context of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution.
"I am in general agreement with the conclusions arrived at on the interpretation of Article 163 and Article 174 of the Constitution. However, my reasons for arriving at the same conclusions are somewhat different and partly additional or supplementary, necessitating an expression of my views. I have also gone through the draft judgment of my learned Brother Justice Dipak Misra and in the view that I have taken, it is not necessary for me to expression any opinion on his conclusions," Mr. Justice Lokur said.
Sources said that the Union Government would study the judgement before deciding on its future course of action.
Today's verdict, restoring status quo ante as on December 9, 2015 implies that the decisions on dismissal of the Congress government, imposition of President's Rule in the state on January 26 this year and the formation of a new government in the state by rebels from the Congress with the support of the BJP have all been rendered invalid.
This is the second such blow to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre. On April 26, the Uttarakhand High Court had quashed the imposition of President's Rule in the hill state and restored the government headed by Congress leader Harish Rawat back in office.
The judgement had also asked Mr. Rawat to prove his majority in the state legislative assembly.
The Supreme Court had, on April 27, kept the order in abeyance but later allowed Mr. Rawat to seek a vote of confidence in the assembly, which he won on May 10.
In circumstances very similar to what had happened in Arunachal Pradesh, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had imposed President's Rule in Uttarakhand on March 27, just a day ahead of a trust vote that Mr. Rawat was scheduled to seek in the assembly. The Centre stated that the Rawat governmnt had lost its majority and was continuing in office illegally.
The vote of confidence brought the curtains down on a high-stakes political drama in Uttarakhand that began in early March when nine Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) belonging to the Congress rebelled against Mr. Rawat's leadership.
Today's verdict came on an appeal filed by Mr. Nabam Rebia, Speaker of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly, who contended that the actions of the Governor, without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister, demonstrated an "extraneous and inappropriate exercise of constitutional authority".
Congress leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who appeard for Mr. Rabia, said the verdict was historic because this was the first time that the Supreme Court had restored the status quo ante.
"Now the situation will revert to whatever was the status quo on the 16th of December 2015," he said.
"Only the judiciary can protect values of the constitution and I salute the judiciary for this judgment,” he said.
"Thank you Supreme Court for explaining to the Prime Minister what democracy is," Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
"SC judgment yet another tight slap on dictatorial Modi govt. Hope Modi ji wud learn n now stop interfering in democratically elected govts," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Twitter.
The Congress said that, in Arunachal Pradesh, as in Uttarakhand, the BJP had tried to lure away Congress legislators by manufacturing disaffection. It said that, in the case of Arunachal Pradesh, there were tape recordings of a businessman in conversation with people trying to create disaffection.
"There was also talk of monetary remunerations. Why hasn’t the Union Government ordered a probe based on these recordings, which the Congress offered to the Court as proof? Who is the BJP trying to protect?" it asked.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi said she hoped that “this judgement, which firmly establishes the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution, will deter the Union Government from any further misuse of power. Those who had trampled upon constitutional propriety and democratic norms have been defeated today.”
"The Supreme Court has called the conduct of the Arunachal Governor as illegal. The Governor should be sacked for his impropriety and disservice to the Indian Constitution. As the Guwahati High Court had observed, the Governor, Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, had conducted himself in a political manner," it said.
"The BJP has tried to gain control by orchestrating disaffection and misusing the Governor, and use patently illegal means to topple democratically elected State Governments. They have acted with a blatant disregard for the Indian Constitution and have been finally put firmly in their place by the Supreme Court of India," it added.
The political crisis in Arunachal Pradesh began in November 2015 after 21 of the 47 Congress MLAs turned against Mr. Tuki, reducing the ruling party to a minority with just 26 members in the 60-member assembly.
President's Rule was imposed in the state on January 26 and rebel Congress leader Kalikho Pul was sworn in as the new Chief Minister on February 21. Apart from the rebel Congress MLAs, he had the support of 11 BJP MLAs.