In a major blow to the Narendra Modi-led government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and quashed the governor’s orders that advanced the sixth session of the state legislative assembly from January 14 to December 16 last year.
The landmark verdict paves the way for the dismissed Congress government of Nabam Tuki to return to power even after a subsequent government led by rebel Congress leader Kalikho Pul has taken the oath of office.
It also sets aside the directions of governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa that had precipitated the constitutional crisis in the northeastern border state. The Modi government had in December recommended President’s rule in the state.
Earlier this year, both the Nainital High Court and the Supreme Court had quashed Central rule in Uttarakhand and paved the way for the Harish Rawat-led government to be reinstated.
A five-judge constitution bench, headed by Justice J S Khehar, unanimously restored status quo as on December 15 when Tuki was the chief minister. It held that all steps and decisions taken by Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in pursuance to the governor’s order of December 9, last year, are unsustainable.
“It is not within the realm of the governor to embroil himself in any political thicket. The governor must remain aloof from any disagreement, discord, disharmony, discontent or dissension, within individual political parties… the activities within a political party, confirming turbulence, or unrest within its ranks, are beyond the concern of the governor.
The governor must keep clear of any political horse-trading, and even unsavoury political manipulations, irrespective of the degree of their ethical repulsiveness,” the bench, also comprising justices PC Ghose and NV Ramana, said.
Justices Dipak Misra and Madan Lokur read a separate and concurrent judgement stating that the conduct of the governor should not only be impartial but should appear to be perceptibly impartial.
Welcoming the verdict, Tuki said it was “historic” and that it has protected democracy and ensuring justice. Present chief minister Kalikho Pul said he will file a review petition.
The BJP, however, downplayed the Congress’ accusations of toppling elected governments in states ruled by the grand old party and said the Arunachal Pradesh verdict is not a setback for the Centre.
BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said the political crisis in the state was an outcome of Congress’ internal fight. “The Congress government was reduced to a minority after a faction within the party rebelled. We only supported the faction’s bid to power from the outside.”
“There is a leadership crisis in Congress, be it in Arunachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand. The BJP has nothing to do with it. The Congress’ allegations that BJP is trying to topple democratically-elected governments are baseless. The Congress should first fix problems within the party. It will be soon seen in the floor test whether the Congress has majority or not,” he added.
The Wednesday’s decision was hailed by Opposition parties. Congress president Sonia Gandhi said, “Those who had trampled upon constitutional propriety and democratic norms have been defeated today.” She hoped the decision would deter the government from further misuse of power.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi targetted the PM, saying the SC verdict explains to him what “democracy is.”CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury described the verdict as “very, very big indictment” on the Modi dispensation.
He demanded that the Centre take action against those responsible for the “continuous transgressions” of constitutional structure, first in Uttarakhand and then in Arunachal.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, a bitter critic of Modi, accused the Centre of subverting the constitution and attempting to impose “dictatorship” in the country. “The SC judgment yet another tight slap on dictatorial Modi govt,” he tweeted.