Article 356 in the news …. again

On Valentine’s Day this year, the Supreme Court delivered its decision in the Rajendra Singh Rana case, disqualifying 13 MLAs in the U.P. Legislative Assembly, and sparked off a veritable ‘constitutional crisis’ as the UPA government considered invoking Article 356 to impose President’s Rule in the crucial state of U.P. Watching this event unfold over the past few days was depressing, as all the players seemed to be playing a by-now familiar set of roles, ignoring the much commented upon abuses of Article 356 in recent decades.

Today’s editorials for the Hindu and the Telegraph conclude that the crisis has been averted due to the tactical intervention of the Election Commission, but are quite strident in their condemnation of the political opportunism that was on display in full measure during the unfolding of events over the past few days. Also, Soli Sorabjee has a hard-hitting Op-Ed in the Indian Express commenting on this recent episode by placing it in the context of recent cases involving Article 356, including the Bommai case, which he argued and has also written insightfully about.

In the comments section of the post preceding this one, V. Venkatesan draws attention to a possible solution to the perennial problem of the abuse of Article 356, which came up during the proceedings of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, and was the subject of a 2001 Frontline piece by him.

While this crisis may have been averted, it only emphasises the need for resolving the basic issues at the heart of the continuing abuse of Article 356.

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1 comment
  • Today, I spoke to Dr.Subash Kashyap, a member of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, and asked him whether the Commission considered the block vote proposal, suggested by one of the officials, and if so, why the Commission did not incorporate it in the final recommendations. He admitted that there was a proposal, but the Commission did not even consider it. “It was bizarre, so undemocratic, made the MPs’ vote irrelevant. That official was shunted out”. Dr.Kashyap, however, did not specify what was bizarre or undemocratic about that proposal. “It would require a seminar to explain”, is what he would say.
    No doubt, the block vote proposal can be fine-tuned, and improved. But in essence, does it not reflect and improve upon the system of direct elections in a constituency. After all, the voters who voted for a losing candidate reconcile themselves to the success of the winning candidate, and accept her as their representative. The block vote proposal only reflects this essence, and makes democracy within political parties possible, while at the same guaranteeing freedom of expression of individual members, who would not face the threat of disqualification.