The Supreme Court has urged the Centre to act expeditiously in resolving the political impasse that has paralysed the Delhi legislative assembly since February this year. After the AAP-led government resigned, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung recommended president’s rule in Delhi, keeping the assembly in “suspended animation”. Six months later, there is little evidence of any political initiative to break the deadlock.
The Supreme Court has rightly refused to settle the political issue. Even as the question might still be asked why such a matter finds its way into the court’s domain, the SC’s restraint in dealing with it marks a welcome departure from its previous attempt in March, in response to the same petition, to reach out to the Congress and BJP “to know their position” on government formation. It is not the court’s business to untangle the knots of coalition politics. It must hold back, as far as possible, from entering what its own verdict in the S.R. Bommai case refers to as the “political thicket”.
In lobbing the ball back to Delhi’s lieutenant governor and the Centre, the SC’s message is clear: due process must be followed on the imposition, extension or lifting of president’s rule. The responsibility to act on the continued governance deficit in Delhi lies with Lt Gov Najeeb Jung and the Centre.
But Jung is yet to publicly articulate a persuasive explanation for why the Delhi assembly has been kept in abeyance. The Supreme Court has pointedly referred to the lack of “strength” or “desire” among parties to form government. If Jung believes otherwise, he should make his reasons clear. The Constitution permits the Centre to extend president’s rule in Delhi for another six months. That decision, however, must draw from and respond to the situation on the ground. In the Bommai case, the SC emphasised that presidential proclamations must not be made on “irrelevant” or “extraneous” grounds. The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-state relations suggested that if a government cannot be installed, it is the governor’s duty to “leave the resolution of the constitutional crisis to the electorate”.
The Centre is faced with two options: giving more time to political parties to put together a government in the current assembly, or calling for fresh elections. “We are not looking at the political party before us. We are looking at the Delhi citizen’s point of view, who may say he has elected a representative who is drawing salary from taxpayers’ money and sitting idle,” said the SC. Jung and the Union government would do well to take the court’s cue, and act swiftly, placing the concerns of citizens above all.