The NDA government has asked for President’s rule in Arunachal and President Pranab Mukherjee has sought clarifications from the central government on the need to invoke Article 356 of the Constitution in this instance.
Article 356 is inspired by sections 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which provided that if a Governor of a province was satisfied that a situation had arisen in which the government of the province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the said Act, he could assume to himself all or any of the powers of the government and discharge those functions in his discretion. The Governor, however, could not encroach upon the powers of the high court. This background has imbued this article with a whiff of a ‘controlled democracy’, which is what the British would have intended then.
As the idea that India is a federation of states gained currency, regional and Left parties articulated why federalism was important and the Opposition would protest almost every time Article 356 was imposed.
The Sarkaria Commission notes that while in the first few years after the Constitution, it was invoked only thrice; between 1975 and ‘79, it was invoked 21 times; and between 1980 and ‘87, 18 times.
In 1989, after the Centre dismissed the SR Bommai government in Karnataka, SC had said the validity of a proclamation for President’s rule can be subjected to judicial review.
The Article has almost always been used to dismiss state governments where the party in power is not the same as that ruling at the Centre. So Jawaharlal Nehru found it easy to dismiss the EMS Namboodiripad government in Kerala in 1959, but AB Vajpayee could never bring his government to dismiss BJP’s Narendra Modi government in Gujarat in 2002.
However, a rare exception would be the imposition of President’s Rule in Punjab for over a year by the Indira Gandhi government in 1983. The then Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh was battling militancy in 1983.
Recent cases of Article 356
President’s Rule was in force in Delhi with the Assembly in suspended animation from February 14, 2014, to February 11, 2015. This was after Arvind Kejriwal resigned as CM after his move to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill fell through in the Assembly
Imposed in Maharashtra from September 28, 2014, to October 31, 2014, after Prithviraj Chavan resigned following the break-up of the 15-year-old Congress-NCP alliance in the state.
In Andhra Pradesh from February 28, 2014, to June 8, 2014, due to a political crisis caused by the resignation of CM N Kiran Kumar Reddy and other Congress legislators on February 19, protesting against the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill that bifurcated the state and created a separate state of Telangana.
In Jharkhand from January 18, 2013, to July 12, 2013, as the Arjun Munda-led BJP government was reduced to a minority after the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha withdrew support. Munda resigned and sought dissolution of the state Assembly.