The seven questions that Supreme Court framed for the Centre over President's Rule in Uttarakhand read like seven commandments meant to ascertain the Union government’s commitment to upholding the Constitution.
Perhaps the BJP’s celebration of victory over the continuation of President’s rule in Uttarakhand is too premature. There are all indications that the questions posed by the top court are carefully designed to elicit the real intent of the Centre.
For instance, the Supreme Court asks if the Governor could have sent a message to Vidhan Sabha under Article 175 (2) to hold the floor test. This question assumes significance in view of the fact that in many states of the country, Governors resort to this method to ascertain majority in assemblies.
Similarly, the Supreme Court asks if the disqualification of legislators was genuine ground for imposition of President’s rule. In effect, the court has asked if the Centre intended to sit over the judgment on the Speaker’s action. Of course, the government has cited this as a cause for the breakdown of the constitutional machinery, leading to invocation of Article 356. The court has also sought answer from the Centre if proceedings of an assembly could be taken as ground for imposition of President’s rule.
The Uttarakhand assembly passed the Appropriation Bill through voice vote despite protests by the rebels. The court has asked the Centre if the bill could be passed only through President’s rule. It also questions the Centre’s contention that the delay in the floor test would lead to a situation where imposition of President’s rule becomes imperative.
The most critical question that emerged from today’s proceedings relate to the perception of destabilisation. The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to specify what exactly qualifies as perception of destabilisation. It has also asked if President’s rule is necessary if a section of rebel legislators switches loyalties.
Apparently, the Supreme Court has covered all aspects that the Centre has been citing as reasons for the imposition of President’s rule. If one goes strictly by the SR Bommai judgment, none of those arguments advanced by the Centre appears tenable. What is significant is the fact that the Supreme Court has downplayed the significance of horse-trading which came through a dubious sting operation in which Chief Minister Harish Rawat was shown to have offered money to buy support. Since the sting cannot be treated as evidence in court, the Supreme Court seems to have ignored the question of horse-trading.
Though President’s rule continues in the state, the Supreme Court's final verdict, expected to be delivered before the summer vacation, would once again set the guidelines for its imposition. It is expected to put an end to the Centre’s tendency to misuse the article to further political ends. With the seven questions, the Supreme Court seems to be preparing for another version of Bommai judgment (Bommai 2.0).