A.G.Noorani on appointing a PM -II

The second part of A.G.Noorani’s review article in Frontline chronicles the hung Parliament situations at the Centre and how the Presidents addressed them. What is relevant for our understanding is how he draws the necessary lessons for future Presidents, when faced with hung verdicts in elections. Referring to 1969 split in the Congress, he says that the then President V.V. Giri rightly did not ask her to prove the majority of her group in the Lok Sabha. That innovation came later. But it is not clear whether he disagrees with this innovation. I am also not convinced how he defends K.R.Narayanan’s decision to ask Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence in 1999, after AIADMK withdrew support. Clearly, the situation was similar to the 1969 split. True, Narayanan innovated. But if V.V.Giri was correct in 1969 in ignoring the split in the Congress, clearly Narayanan could have done the same, and the Opposition would have been left with the option to move a no-confidence motion. That decision of Narayanan unnecessarily helped the BJP to emerge as a martyr, having lost the trust vote by one, and enabled the NDA to return to power in the 1999 elections.

This is how Noorani sums up his article:

1. There is no rule that requires the largest single party to be invited as a matter of course. It comes into play only if the ruling party loses its majority and others have to be sounded out. Even so, any coalition established thereafter acquires an overriding claim provided it can prima facie demonstrate majority support. There is in law no distinction between a pre-poll and a post-poll alliance.

2. Indian precedents sanctify written assurances of support to the leader of a coalition, plus assurances of stability by way of a minimum common programme, even if it is drawn up later. Some proof of cohesion is necessary.

3. There is no rule of proving majority support within a time stipulated by the President except where there is an acute crisis of confidence that mandates transparency by all, the President included.

4. In the last resort, a minority government must not be ruled out. The House will be the judge.

The article is useful for a discussion of the Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruling on August 16, 1993, in Major Montague Jayawickrema and another vs M.A. Bakeer Markan and another.

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