The Rajya Sabha on Thursday witnessed a face-off between Opposition and government over dismissal of Congress dispensations in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, bringing into close scrutiny the role of governors.
The main opposition party alleged "trampling" of democracy by the BJP-led government which hit back by reminding that Congress had "butchered" democracy by misusing Article 356 about 100 times.
The Congress pressed for a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue, since he talks of "cooperative federalism".
The clash took place as the House took up a discussion on 'Developments in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh leading to change in governments there and the role of Governors in the respective States'.
What happened in the two states was a "brazen violation of Constitution" and "insult to democracy", said Deputy Leader of Congress Anand Sharma while initiating the debate.
"What happened in Arunachal late last year followed by Uttarakhand in Janauary this year shocked the country and invited censure of the Supreme Court and High Court of Uttarakhand," he said.
Questioning the role of Governors, the former minister said he or she is "not supposed to interfere in day-to-day functioning... take unilateral decisions... Constitution was not respected... It is insult to peoples mandate."
Citing the developments in both the states, he said Governors do not meddle in politics or undermine elected governments but "brazen violation of constitution" occured in both the states.
He alleged that the Governors in both the states "willingly became tools to pursue nefarious agenda of the ruling party".
Citing the Supreme Court orders on the dismissal of governments in these two states, Sharma asked why no action was taken against Uttarakhand Governor.
"Sack that Governor. Remove him. If he continues to hold the post you are insulting constitution," Sharma said.
"What happened was shameful. The government conduct was outrageous... Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of constitutional federalism... At the same time ruling party president talks of Congress-mukt Bharat...that is the official position of the ruling party and its national executive... this is insult to democracy and misuse of authority to destabilise elected governments," Sharma charged.
Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu intervened to say that it is "the Devil quoting the scriptures".
This was objected to by the Congress after which Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said he will examine whether it fell under unparliamentary language.
Naidu said, "Issue is ...does the Congress party have any moral right to raise this. It has misused Article 356 at least 90 to 100 times... Such a party is giving sermons."
Naidu said the "the original Congress was National Congress. This is a notional Congress.
He said the Sarkaria Commission report had spoken about misuse of Article 356 by the successive Congress governments.
Justifying imposition of President's rule in Arunachal Pradesh and then in Uttarakhand, Naidu said there was Constitutional crisis there at that time.
He was responding to Sharma's allegation that Governors in the two states had "willingly become tools to pursue nefarious agenda of the ruling party" and had acted as "political agents" of the government to topple the elected governments,
Sharma also questioned whether BJP respects the Constitution or not.
Naidu replied, "You should have been aware of the consequences. The arguments are over now. Your man did not have majority. He has resigned. How can you blame it on us? Had you taken appropriate action at appropriate time this would not have happened."
Naidu quoted Sarkaria Commission recommendation that Article 356 be used sparingly as the last resort and in extreme urgency as misuse will have disastrous consequences.
He gave details about how it was misused 12 times till 1967 and was later used umpteen times to topple several elected governments with the crescendo in 1977.
"It is not the first time Article 356 is used, not the first time any Central government has intervened at any particular stage in a state... Congress party has done this umpteen times all these years. Several non-Congress governments became casualties because of your political considerations," the minister retorted.
Referring to instances of imposition of President's rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Naidu said such a situation arose due to internal squabbling within the Congress party.
Defending the action to recommend President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh, he said, "It was your problem and we were compelled to step in because of the constitutional breakdown."
He asserted, "We believe in cooperative federalism, we want to take states along us. We are following the 'Team India' spirit. So you please cooperate and set your own house in order. Rest we can all address it together."
Recalling how he was arrested during Emergency just for inviting socialist leader Jaiprakash Narain to college, Naidu said, "you disqualify MLAs and get Constitution bill passed. You have misused, dismissed and murdered popular elected Governors."
He added, "Let us not score political points. We have to be responsible to the Constitution. Rules cannot be one for you and the other for me. We never say we want a Congress-mukt Bharat but we want a party like Congress to benefit."
Naidu told Congress not to point accusing finger at government. "Let us reform the system," he said.
After Naidu's intervention, Derek O'Brien (Trinamool Congress) raised a point of order under Rule 261 on use of "Devil preaches scripture" remark. To this, Kurien said, "I will examine this."
Immediately after this, there were peals of laughter in the House as Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said he just wanted to know why Naidu was so aggressive and whether he had had chillies today instead of his usual sweets.
Kurien said, "you can offer him sweets."
Soon after this, Prabhat Jha (BJP) said Congress had no right to charge BJP as this was the party which had sterlised unmarried youth during Emergency.
This provoked protests by members from Congress.
Amid the din, Jha said, "you have no right on this issue. Your party has forced President's Rule as many as 123 times and barring the two newly-carved states Telangana and Chhattisgarh, no other state has been spared from it."
There was ruckus in the House when Jha said that during the Emergency 2 lakh people had been jailed and there was rampant violation of Constitution with government even censoring media.
Kurien then urged members to restore peace.
Meanwhile, Jha said Congress should have courage to listen to the truth.
As the Congress members continued to protest, Kurien warned that he would adjourn the House if the members failed to restore peace and sit down allowing the House to conduct business.
The altercation between members of the two major parties escalated to such an extent that the Chair had to reprimand Congress member Mohammad Ali Khan and even threatened that the House would be adjourned for the day if the debate continues in a disorderly way.
"I am sorry, I will adjourn the House for the day. This notice was given by Anand Sharma, Digvijay Singh and Bhubaneswar Kalita. All are from one party. They are blocking the discussion. Why do you think for every point raised you should reply. This is most disorder discussion. This behaviour I cannot accept," Kurien said.
He told Sharma, "If you cannot control your members. I will apply (Rule) 255." The Chair also admonished Khan.
Order was then restored in the House.
Continuing, Jha said the Congress was leveling charges against the Modi government instead of changing its behaviour.
"I challenge you. Let's debate on Emergency. How you trampled upon the Constitution.... We have got the full mandate, we are not going to submit before you," he added.
Neeraj Shekhar (SP) said BJP was committing the same mistakes that Congress had done.
"You fight on politics, you fight on principles, but not personal. What is happening in Uttar Pradesh? It pains me. You please recall the Governor and send some civilized person," he said.
He wanted apology from both Congress and BJP for misuse of Article 356, while questioning the necessity of having the post of Governor.
"Why should we require Governor? They are propagandist and using the Raj Bhawan for this purpose. Is it the job of a Governor to dethrone the government" he asked.
He sought to know if the report of the Sarkariya Commission report on role of Governor is being followed in letter and spirit.
The report defines a Governor as one who should be away from politics. "He can do politics to some extent but not propaganda. Whether you are following this report? I am unable to understand the role of Governor," he said.
Shekar urged the government not to misuse power of governor and ensure image of governor is kept clean.
Vijila Sathyananth (AIADMK) condemned the actions of Governors in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh and called upon the President to remove them.
"If this (misuse of Governor's post) is not curbed, this is dangerous to the federal state and the autonomy of a state. This issue is not confined to Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. If this is done in any other part of the country, it will have reverberation," she said.
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (Trinamool Congress) sought review of the appointment of Governors and demanded putting in place of eligibility and qualification criteria for selection.
This is necessary as recent developments in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh prove that some Governors have "acted as agents," he said.
"Article 157 of the Constitution deals with the appointment of a Governor and this must be reviewed. The qualification should be provided," he said.
He also sought review of the Article 356 even as he observed that the ruling party was giving "uncanny respect" to the Constitution.
Ramnath Thakur (JD-U) said both Congress and BJP have committed mistakes and asked if strict action would be taken against violators of the Constitution.
He also hoped that the debate would find a solution to this problem.