Sasikala convicted: Composite floor test may not be Constitution-mandated but effective SC innovation

The Constitution of India does not spell out the manner in which the governor must satisfy himself about the claim of majority support in the Assembly by the ruling dispensation. It is an open and shut case if the ruling dispensation has a convincing, if not an overwhelming majority, like it happened in Tamil Nadu in the 2016 Assembly election in which the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK won 134 out of the 234 seats. But the governor has a tough job if it is a coalition with a slender majority support that is staking its claim. It is tougher still if there are rival claimants from the same party or other as is now being witnessed in Tamil Nadu — Sasikala propped up Edappady K Palanisamy against O Paneerselvam (OPS).

File photo of (L) VK Sasikala and OP Panneerselvam. PTI

VK Sasikala and OP Panneerselvam.

The Supreme Court in the famous and oft-cited SR Bommai case made the governor’s task simple to the extent possible by mandating a floor test. Do not let the rival claimants parade their supporters in the Assembly in the Raj Bhavan, was its admonition. Instead ask the claim to the ruling status be determined on the floor of the House by seeking a vote of confidence was its sage counsel, which is indeed binding, coming as it does from the apex court whose word is the law of the land. But then problems could be compounded further if there are rival claimants. In 1998, the Supreme Court resolved the impasse by ordering a composite floor test in the UP Assembly, either Kalyan Singh or Jagadambika Pal, was asked to be voted by the MLAs through a ballot paper on the floor of the House.

Against the above backdrop, it would now be useful to answer a few relevant questions on composite floor test:

Is it mandated in the Indian Constitution?

No. It is Supreme Court’s innovation, an effective one at that. Come to think of it, even the normal floor test is not Constitution-mandated but the binding opinion of the apex court articulated in SR Bommai case.

How is it an improvement over the normal floor test?

It is an improvement in the sense that if there are rival claimants to the chief minister’s office from the same party or what is perceived to be an Opposition party then this is the only way of determining who truly commands the confidence of the House.

Doesn’t it allow Opposition to fish in troubled waters?

That is inevitable, be it floor test or composite floor test, although arguably the scope for doing this is more with the latter, witness the ongoing developments in Tamil Nadu. There is a view that OPS is cosying upto the AIADMK’s bête noire DMK, and is counting on being bailed out by DMK, even if his own party members desert him in the numbers game. The DMK has an 89-member strength and can upset Sasikala’s calculations and applecart by siding with her tormentor OPS.

Is it fair for the Opposition to vote on the choice of the chief minister?

Normally the choice is the prerogative of the ruling dispensation. But if you wash your dirty linen in public, so to speak, then you expose yourself inevitably to Opposition participation in what is arguably the matter squarely falling within the remit of the ruling dispensation. Therefore, it is not a question of fairness but of resolving the impasse. Of course, this situation is eminently avoidable because OPS in the discussion on hand could remain beholden to the DMK for its favour. Mutual back scratching could follow.

Germany has a sensible regime for bringing no-confidence motion — it should be accompanied by a confidence motion so that both are voted together i.e. compositely as a package. The idea is do not trivialise no-confidence motion just to spite the ruling dispensation. Composite floor test likewise calls upon the MLAs to vote compositely — whether you are for Palanisamy or OPS. This is the best under the circumstances. Opposition might fish in troubled waters is trite. But then isn’t the assembly dependent on the Opposition as well for the smooth functioning of the House. Why grudge its role especially when your own house is not in order?

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 11:05:35 IST

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