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Political Crisis in Rajasthan

Judicial intervention into the deadlock of defection has only caused further confusion and instability.

In the midst of a raging pandemic, Rajasthan finds itself in a political crisis that has once again shown how little political leaders care for constitutional norms and niceties. The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government has been destabilised by a group of Congress members of legislative assembly (MLAs) led by former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot who have refused to attend legislature party meetings and have holed themselves up in a resort. Depending on who one listens to, the source of troubles are either Pilot’s reckless ambition for the top post or Gehlot’s manoeuvring to sideline Pilot and his coterie of MLAs. Either way, it is the last thing any state attempting to address a pandemic and economic crisis needs.

Attempts to bring some sort of stability and certainty to the situation have been stymied by the Rajasthan High Court and the governor of the state. When Rajasthan Assembly Speaker C P Joshi issued disqualification notices to the 19 MLAs in Pilot’s group, the Rajasthan High Court stepped in to stay these notices. When the Rajasthan cabinet resolved to call a session of the state legislative assembly, the governor simply refused to do so, raising trivial, technical objections to the exercise. Worse still, the governor seemed to want to dictate how the assembly session would be carried out, ­something that is well outside his limited constitutional mandate, given that he has not questioned the Congress’s majority in the assembly. Although he eventually relented and has agreed to call the assembly to session on 14 August, it once again highlights how the office of the governor can be easily used for partisan ends.

Since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) received a thumping majority in 2014, destabilising opposition-led state governments has become an unhealthy pastime for the regime. The habit did not begin with them for sure, and the Constitution arguably gives too much power to the union government to meddle in the affairs of the state government. That said, the crux of the problem has to be laid at the door of the holders of two offices who were expected to be impartial and neutral, namely the governor and the speaker. In the long history of the Indian republic, they have proven to be anything but.

If the governor has been turned into an “agent” of the union government at the state level, the speaker has proven to be an “agent” of the ruling party in helping create majorities and break oppositions at will. No political party in power has covered itself in glory on either of these matters, doing the very things in power it complained about when out of it.

However, it is not enough to blame political partisanship for the current state of affairs. The Constitution’s provisions relating to the appointment and removal of the governor and the Tenth Schedule relating to the defection of elected representatives are flawed. They have created perverse incentives for parties to act in the way they do. Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra acts the way he does because he owes his position to the NDA government at the centre and knows that he will be removed from office by them if he does not. When it suited his party, Joshi did not bother to adjudicate the disqualification of Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs who switched to the Congress, but when the need for the party was dire, he tried to disqualify the disaffected legislators. He too enjoys his position at the pleasure of his party.

Far from providing any certainty in the matter, judicial intervention has only caused further confusion and instability. There is a reasonable argument that the Supreme Court’s judgment in Kihoto Hollohan v Zachillhu and Others (1992), interpreting and upholding the Tenth Schedule, needs to be reconsidered. However, it is an act of judicial indiscipline for the Rajasthan High Court to assume that it can decide the correctness of Kihoto Hollohan and then proceed to stay the speaker’s notice on this basis alone without offering any substantive reasoning about the merits of the claim. While there is a debate about the extent and scope of the speaker’s powers under the Tenth Schedule, to stay the proceedings altogether without going into the basic question of whether it is legally permissible to do it in this case is bizarre.

High court has indefinitely stayed the disqualification proceedings without offering any tangible reasons. If all of this paints a dismal picture about the state of the constitutional government in India, it is by no means an exaggeration. The events in Rajasthan have played out in some way or the other as they did in Manipur, Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. It is quite likely that, irrespective of the outcome in Rajasthan, the public at large is unlikely to come away with the belief that constitutional institutions in India work as they are supposed to.

 

Updated On : 3rd Aug, 2020

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