President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday approved the cabinet recommendation to impose central rule in Arunachal Pradesh and keep the state assembly in suspended animation, as Congress, which rules the border state, slammed the move as a "murder of constitution and democracy" on Republic Day. The Supreme Court will hear the Congress challenge petition on Wednesday.
Arunachal Pradesh has been rocked by a political crisis since 16 December last year when 21 rebel Congress MLAs joined hands with 11 of BJP and two independents to ‘impeach’ Assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia at a makeshift venue, in a move branded as “illegal and unconstitutional” by the Speaker.
The Supreme Court decided to hear on 27 January the Congress plea challenging the Cabinet decision. The petition seeking urgent hearing was mentioned before Chief Justice T S Thakur, at his residence, who directed the matter to be listed for hearing on Wednesday.
"President of India has signed a proclamation under article 356(1) of the constitution, imposing President's Rule in relation to the state of Arunachal Pradesh and keeping the legislative assembly of the state in suspended animation with effect from January 26," said a home ministry statement.
"Taking cognisance of the constitutional breakdown that has taken place in the state as reported by the governor of Arunachal Pradesh, the union cabinet in its meeting held on January 24, had recommend to the President to issue such proclamation," it added.
The Indian Express reports that sources said the President had been advised that the court will “most certainly” examine the controversial role played by Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, especially his December 9 message to the Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly.
The Congress slammed the Narendra Modi-led government for rushing to impose President's rule in the northeastern state, and "disrespecting" the Supreme Court by bypassing it when it was hearing the matter.
The Hindu reports that Congress-led anger against Modi will certainly find echo in Parliament.
"The constitution and democracy have been murdered on this Republic Day. It is an effort by the government to nail federalism. The matter is sub judice and yet the speed with which the cabinet moved and the final decision has been taken is a clear indication that they have no respect for the highest court of the land," said Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan.
"They could have waited for the matter to be settled by the judiciary yet they moved with express speed to ensure President's rule in a sensitive state. There is no indication of past or present breakdown of law and order. These are signals of imagination manufactured to fine-tune and legitimise horse-trading that was done by a certain sitting minister.
"The matter should have been handled under the spirit of the S.R. Bommai case yet the argument being given that the house was not summoned for six months, but the ground reality is the matter was sub judice in the high court of the state and therefore that statutory requirement was met with," said Vadakkan, adding the attempt to remove the speaker by the deputy speaker smacks of a larger conspiracy.
"We expect justice from the highest court of the land therefore we would not like to add any comment on a sub judice matter," he added.
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki said that they will fight this battle legally.
"We will seek justice from the Supreme Court. We will fight this battle legally. The matter was sub judice, that's why we waited for the court's order. It said not to hold an assembly session. I had a feeling they'll do this as this was their intention. But we aren't nervous, we will fight," Tuki told media persons.
"Point to me even a single questionable law and order situation in Arunachal Pradesh? They can't, because there is none. Arunachal Pradesh is a peaceful state, you can go and see and give a report," he added.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also criticised imposition of President's rule in the state, invoking BJP veteran L.K. Advani's concern last year about "emergency-like conditions" in the country.
"President Rule in Arunachal Pradesh. Advani ji was right in saying that there are emergency like conditions in the country," Kejriwal tweeted after the president's approval was announced.
The president, who had been urged by the Congress not to approve central rule in the state, is said to have discussed the Arunachal situation with Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday.
Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa had on December 9 advanced the date of the convening of the assembly session.
The move was criticized by the Congress, with its leader Kapil Sibal saying the governor should not have acted on a resolution by the Bharatiya Janata Party legislators and two independents.
On January 18, the Supreme Court said it would examine whether Rajkhowa's decision of advancing the assembly session to December 16 to take up the resolution for removal of Speaker Nabam Rebia was valid or not.