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Blot on the political landscape
March 22, 2005
Discretion being the better part of valour, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi gave the green signal for President's rule in Goa after the Rane ministry won a bogus vote of confidence that made normal governmental functioning virtually impossible.
Unfortunately in Jharkhand, it was only after national public opinion was enraged by the shameful affront to the Supreme Court directive on holding the vote of confidence on March 11 that party leaders finally persuaded Shibu Soren to resign as chief minister, paving the way for the return of Arjun Munda.
While Sonia Gandhi became politically incommunicado after the dice began to roll in favour of the NDA (refusing to talk to reporters during Dandi-II), the party's Left and liberal allies remain unfazed at the failure of the gunboat democracy attempted in Jharkhand, and arraign the Supreme Court for the 11 March denouement.
Sonia unhappy with Jharkhand developments
It is obvious that they will support the Congress party in any future attempt to subvert the people's will, on grounds of expediency or ideology.
As of now, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee seems determined to press the Congress-led UPA government to seek a Presidential reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143, regarding its directions to the Jharkhand assembly to hold the vote of confidence on March 11 rather than March 15.
The latter date was set by Governor Sibte Razi after he was summoned to Rashtrapati Bhavan to explain the swearing in of Shibu Soren and was generally perceived as a last-ditch attempt to help the Congress-JMM combine to 'arrange' the necessary numbers.
How NDA pulled off Operation Decoy
By thus openly defying democratic norms, public opinion, and President Kalam's wishes for transparency and fair play, Razi left BJP leader Arjun Munda no choice but to appeal to the apex court for justice. By reducing the time and opportunity for horse-trading and directing an early vote of confidence, the Supreme Court did no more than could be expected of it in the circumstances.
Since Pro-tem Speaker Pradeep Balmuchu had already sworn in the newly elected members, he was the court's obvious choice for conducting this exercise. To claim that court's directive to the Pro-tem Speaker impinged upon the authority of the state legislature and violated the constitutional separation of powers is therefore, quite specious.
The Congress party had no hesitation in getting the Goa Pro-tem Speaker to disqualify an MLA and ensure victory by casting the deciding vote. Yet UPA members in Jharkhand repeatedly disrupted the assembly claiming the Pro-tem Speaker had no right to conduct the vote of confidence, and Balmuchu himself invoked Somnath Chatterjee's objections to the Supreme Court directive to defy the apex court.
Congress' devious ways
With the shameful events in Ranchi amply proving that Soren had no majority, it is scandalous that Somnath Chatterjee should still insist that the UPA government move a Presidential reference on the Supreme Court's powers. Not only does he expose an appalling lack of respect for the people's verdict in the state and national outrage over the hijacking of the people's mandate, he demonstrates a partisanship that has lowered the dignity of the Speaker's office.
Given this reality, BJP President L K Advani showed undue haste in declaring that the party would not pursue the no-confidence motion against the Lok Sabha Speaker.
Mr Advani, we understand your outrage
Even more distressing is the attitude of Rajya Sabha member Fali Nariman, an eminent jurist and known liberal. Admitting that Soren should never have been sworn in by the governor in the first place, Nariman nonetheless supports Chatterjee's desire for a Presidential reference under Article 143, for a Constitutional opinion on the powers of the legislatures and the courts.
The Supreme Court, he claims, has upset the delicate balance of power in the Constitution, and created a precedent by which high courts can direct how proceedings of state assemblies should or should not be conducted by presiding officers.
Nariman claims that under Articles 122 and 212, the validity of proceedings in Parliament or state legislatures cannot be called in question in court on ground of alleged irregularity of procedure; nor can any officer or member of Parliament or state legislature in whom powers are vested for regulating procedure or conduct of business be made subject to the jurisdiction of courts in respect of the exercise by his powers. The apex court, in his view, transgressed this provision.
Is the Congress awake?
With due respect to Nariman's tremendous legal acumen, I beg to differ. It will be a sad day in the annals of the Indian judiciary if judges were to maintain that the law can be violated with impunity until and unless there is a specific law to deal with each and every transgression of law and justice.
Munda approached the Supreme Court because the governor had violated all established norms to swear in Shibu Soren. When it became apparent that Soren did not have numbers on his side, Razi, despite a Presidential reprimand, compounded his mistakes by convening the assembly dates in a manner conducive to horse-trading.
The Supreme Court could hardly support this mockery of law, justice, and the Constitution, on grounds of constitutional privilege. Wisely adopting a path of minimal and judicious intervention, it directed the presiding officer to conduct the vote of confidence at the earliest.
The shamelessness with which the UPA combine disrupted the proceedings made it apparent that theirs was a lost cause. Yet Balmuchu compounded this ignominy by adjourning the House till March 15 (obviously to provide time and opportunity Soren).
Mr Chatterjee's hour of loneliness
Mercifully, in New Delhi, the Manmohan Singh regime read the writing on the wall and was able to compel Soren to resign, though it was almost midnight before he gracelessly threw in the towel. I am surprised that even with the benefit of hindsight, Fali Nariman thinks the Supreme Court's intervention was unjustified, and that a presiding officer (in this case the Pro-tem Speaker) has the Constitutional right to violate the Constitution and the people's verdict with impunity, because the Constitution has given him a privileged position in his respective sphere.
Literalism is the bane of the legal community. Not for nothing have the wise pronounced that when the law is in danger of becoming an ass -- as would have been the case if the Supreme Court had refused to intervene on grounds of an excessively narrow interpretation of points of law -- it is wise to suspend the law.
The Left-Liberal silence over the rape of democracy in Goa and Jharkhand and their inability to digest the fact that Supreme Court intervention has installed a BJP government in Jharkhand is a grim reminder that Indian politics is moving towards a sharper polarisation between parties representing the aspirations of the majority community and those seeking to inhibit the expression of majority will.
The Congress party's Left and Liberal allies have made it clear that they cannot countenance rhe rise of a genuine majority-oriented democracy.
The BJP and its allies will have to clarify if they want to run with the hares or hunt with the hounds.