President's Rule in Arunachal: Why BJP, Congress should stop pigeon-and-statue game of hypocrites

Comic character Dilbert and poet Mirza Ghalib have nothing in common.

But the current finger-pointing and breakout of an epidemic of righteous indignation among political parties on the imposition of President's Rule in Arunachal Pradesh remind us of what both of them once said and warned against.

Dilbert (BJP, please note): "Sometimes you are the pigeon and sometimes you are the statue."

Ghalib (Congress, please note): "Kahaan maikhane ka darwaaza Ghalib aur kahaan waiz, Par itna jaante hain ki kal woh jaata tha ki hum nikle."

The comic strip corporate character, in his trademark pragmatism, had pointed out that in the circle of life, the poop you drop on others, one day falls on your own head.

Arunachal Pradesh Governor Rajkhowa. Twitter/@KalrajMishra

Arunachal Pradesh Governor Rajkhowa. Twitter/@KalrajMishra

Article 356 in the Constitution gives the Centre the right to recommend President's Rule if the "the situation has arisen in which the government of the state cannot be carried on". But, it has almost always been used to sack a state government headed by the party in power in Delhi. The BJP is obviously forgetting that today's perpetrator can be tomorrow's victim.

Ghalib, India's great poet-cum-philosopher, had smirked at the hypocrisy of preachers, of their moral audacity of finding wrong in others what they themselves practice.

The Congress has accused the Centre of murdering democracy by imposing President's Rule in the northeastern state. "Bharatiya Janata Party wants its government everywhere. You can't impose President's Rule because people didn't favour you. We will fight in the court and also tell the people how the BJP misuses its power. It is very unfortunate and it is a murder of democracy," Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said.

Kharge should be reminded the Congress is the pioneer of the tradition of misusing Article 356 for dismissing state governments of rival parties.

In July 1959, when Jawaharlal Nehru dismissed the EMS Namboodiripad government in Kerala, in spite of the Communist CM having the support of the majority in the House, he started a tradition that has become a bane of Indian democracy. Later, during the 1970s and the Emergency, Indira Gandhi and the Janata government turned Indian democracy into a game of musical chairs by dismissing elected governments just to teach their rivals a lesson, or sneak into power through the backdoor.

The Sarkaria Commission, set up in 1983 to examine the Centre-state relationship, examined the issue in its 1988 report and pointed out that the use of Article 356 has been rising with the passage of time. "Whereas between 1950 and 1954, it was invoked only on three occasions, it was invoked on nine occasions between 1965 and 1969; it rose to 21 instances during the period 1975-1979 and to 18 during the period 1980-1987."

Democracy, in fact, became a relay-race of political farce between 1975 and 1980 when Indira dismissed several non-Congress governments and, in retaliation, the Janata government dismissed most of the Congress government after winning the 1977 election. In 1980, when Indira returned to power, she dismissed governments led by Opposition leaders.

The ugly game stopped under Rajiv Gandhi a bit, but only because the Congress emerged victorious in many states during the period. Then in 1992, the PV Narasimha Rao government sacked the BJP governments in four states in the wake of the Ram Mandir agitation.

The BJP got its comeuppance after 1996, when it first tasted power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. By then, rampant misuse of Article 356 had been restrained by the Supreme Court verdict in the SR Bommai case that allowed President's Rule only under specific circumstances and after following strict guidelines. But the BJP set into motion Dilbert's principle with a series of undemocratic decisions.

The BJP's biggest misadventure was in Bihar, when it dismissed the Rabri Devi government in 1999, citing deterioration of law and order in the state. The Vajpayee government had to, however, revoke the decision because it lacked a majority in the Rajya Sabha to get the decision ratified by Parliament. (You can see the full list of instances of President's Rule here)

When powers of dismissing state governments were given to the Centre, several architects of our Constitution had warned against its misuse.

However, Dr BR Ambedkar silenced the sceptics by arguing that no provision of any Constitution is immune from abuse as such and that the mere possibility of abuse cannot be grounds for not incorporating it.

"In fact I share the sentiments expressed by my Hon'ble friend Mr Gupte yesterday that the proper thing we ought to expect is that such articles will never be called into operation and that they would remain a dead letter. If at all they are brought into operation, I hope the President, who is endowed with these powers, will take proper precautions before actually suspending the administration of the provinces... I hope the first thing he will do would be to issue a clear warning to a province that has erred, that things were not happening in the way in which they were intended to happen in the Constitution."

By proving Ambedkar wrong, politicians have proved that they learn from nobody.

Not even from Dilbert and Ghalib.

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Updated Date: Jan 27, 2016 16:58:29 IST

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