Updated: July 28, 2020 9:02:49 pm
Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra’s refusal to accept the Ashok Gehlot government’s recommendation for convening a session of the Assembly, ostensibly to go for a trial of strength to checkmate the rebels led by Sachin Pilot, has once again brought into focus controversial decisions by Governors in formation and dismissal of state governments over the years.
Both the Congress and the BJP, when in power at the Centre, have been accused of misusing the office of the Governor for political purposes. And when in Opposition, both have alleged murder of democracy and the Constitution.
The role of Governors in imposing President’s Rule in states dates as far back as 1959, when the E M S Namboodiripad government in Kerala was dismissed. The role of Governors in toppling one government and installing another is not new either: in 1967, West Bengal Governor Dharma Vira dismissed the Ajoy Mukherjee government and installed a Congress-supported government with P C Ghosh as Chief Minister.
Governors have also courted controversy by not inviting the single largest party to form the government.
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1980s-90s: Congress years
In August-September 1984, Governor Ram Lal installed minister Nadendla Bhaskara Rao as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh when Chief Minister N T Rama Rao was abroad for a heart surgery. The same year, Sikkim Governor Homi Taleyarkhan dismissed the Nar Bahadur Bhandari ministry.
Both instances were during the Indira Gandhi regime at the Centre.
In 1989, P Venkatasubbaiah’s action to dismiss the S R Bommai government triggered a legal battle, which ended up in the landmark Bommai judgement of the Supreme Court of 1994.
Bommai faced a rebellion when an MLA K R Molakery defected and claimed the support of 18 MLAs. The Chief Minister told the Governor that his government enjoyed the majority but Bommai was not given the opportunity to prove it in the Assembly. Instead, Venkatasubbaiah recommended imposition of President’s Rule, which was accepted by the Rajiv Gandhi government.
Bommai was in the Janata Party. In 1988 his party had merged with the Lok Dal, forming the Janata Dal, and new members were inducted into Bommai’s Ministry.
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1990s: United Front
In 1996, Gujarat Governor K P Singh recommended President’s rule in the BJP-ruled state. At the Centre was the United Front government headed by H D Deve Gowda.
The crisis for the Suresh Mehta government began after Shankarsinh Vaghela and 40-odd MLAs rebelled. Mehta proved his majority but the session witnessed a bloody clash between MLAs. Citing breakdown of the constitutional machinery, the Governor recommended Central rule which was accepted.
Then came the Romesh Bhandari episode in Uttar Pradesh. In the middle of the 1998 Lok Sabha pools, the Kalyan Singh government wobbled after the 22-member Loktantrik Congress headed by Jagadambika Pal withdrew support. Governor Bhandari dismissed the government a little after 8 pm, invited Pal to form the government and swore him in as Chief Minister at around 10 pm along with 17 ministers. Kalyan Singh approached the court, which reinstated him and ordered a floor test which he won. Pal became known as the one-day Chief Minister.
2003-13: UPA rule
The Bihar Assembly elections in February 2005 threw up a fractured mandate. With no party in a position to form the government, President’s rule was imposed in the first week of March.
Two months later, the NDA claimed it had the support of 115 MLAs. The JD(U) and the BJP had managed the support of some LJP leaders and independents. Governor Buta Singh alerted the President that this could lead to horse-trading and recommended dissolution of the Assembly on May 21. The Union Cabinet of the UPA met at midnight and faxed the Governor’s report to President Abdul Kalam who was in Moscow. Kalam approved the recommendation in two hours and the Assembly was dissolved.
The Supreme Court later came down heavily on Buta Singh. In its interim order, it held the dissolution unconstitutional. In its final judgement, it held that the Governor had misled the Centre and pointed out that the Union Council of Ministers should have cross-checked before accepting his recommendation. Singh resigned.
The same year saw Jharkhand Governor Syed Sibtey Razi installing JMM’s Shibu Soren as Chief Minister overruling the NDA’s claims that it had the support of 41 MLAs in the 81-member House after the elections threw a hung Assembly. The BJP was willing to parade the MLAs. Soren resigned without facing a trust vote after nine days in office and BJP’s Arjun Munda was sworn in as the next Chief Minister.
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Since 2014: NDA
On March 18, 2016, Congress’s Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand plunged into crisis after nine MLAs joined hands with the BJP, which staked claim to form the government. The next day, met Governor K K Paul asked the Chief Minister to prove his majority by March 28.
A day before the trust vote, the Speaker disqualified the nine rebels. The NDA government at the Centre, on the recommendation of the Governor, imposed President’s rule the same day without giving Rawat an opportunity to prove his majority. The matter went to court and in April the Uttarakhand High Court quashed imposition of President’s Rule and asked Rawat to prove his majority, which he did.
In 2017, after Assembly elections in Goa, the Congress emerged the single largest party with 17 seats (out of 40) while the BJP had 13. But Governor Mridula Sinha invited the BJP which had cobbled up a post-poll alliance with some regional parties and independents and formed the Government.
In Manipur too, the Congress emerged the single largest party with 28 seats in the 60-member House, but Governor Najma Heptullah invited the BJP first after it submitted a list of legislators supporting it.
In the 2018 elections in Karnataka, the BJP emerged the single largest party but fell eight seats short of the halfway mark out of 224. The Congress dramatically announced a post-poll alliance with JD(S) to keep the BJP out. Governor Vajubhai Vala invited BJP’s B S Yeddyurappa and gave him 15 days to prove the majority.
Yeddyurappa was sworn in on March 17. The Congress rushed to the Supreme Court which curtailed the time given and asked Yeddyurappa to prove his majority on May 19. Unable to get the numbers, he resigned without taking the floor test.
In Maharashtra, the Assembly elections in October last year threw up a hung verdict. With possibilities of formation of a stable government not emerging even 15 days after the results, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari recommended President’s rule which was imposed.
The Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP began discussions and came to an understanding on November 22 to stake claim for formation of a government with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister. But it was BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis who Koshiyari swore in as Chief Minister on November 23 at 8 am, with NCP leader Ajit Pawar as his deputy. This came after the President’s rule was revoked at 5.47 am that day. The Governor had submitted a report recommending revocation at 12.30 am.
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