The government and the Congress crossed swords Thursday in a stormy debate in the Rajya Sabha over the imposition of President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. While the BJP and the Congress accused each other of murdering democracy, a number of regional parties said both have violated the Constitution and misused Article 356 over the years and, significantly, called for a review of the appointment, role and powers of the governor.
Nominated member Swapan Dasgupta called for a code of conduct for governors. The DMK demanded abolition of the post of governor, and many regional parties said it is time for a relook at his/her role and powers. The four-and-a-half-hour debate ended with the Congress objecting to Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju replying to the debate, saying he had been “party to what happened” in Arunachal. Since Home Minister Rajnath Singh was away in Pakistan, the Congress wanted the reply postponed.
Deputy chairman P J Kurien overruled the objection after other parties said Rijiju should reply Thursday itself. Rijiju then gave a truncated reply amid slogan-shouting by a handful of Congress members in the well. Congress members later staged a walkout.
Initiating the debate, Congress deputy leader Anand Sharma said Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about cooperative federalism while his government, in “brazen violation” of the Constitution, targets Congress-ruled states to implement his party’s “Congress-free India” slogan.
Sharma said governors are being used as “political agents” to topple governments and humiliate chief ministers. “Governors are willingly becoming tools and agents to execute the nefarious agenda of the ruling party and the government in Delhi,” he said.
Kapil Sibal of the Congress said what had happened was unheard of. He conceded Article 356 had been used and misused before but added “this kind of machinations have never happened in the history of India”.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the Congress has “no moral authority” to talk about misuse of Article 356. He said it was like “the devil quoting the scriptures” as it was the Congress that had misused Article 356 the most times. “They have used it 90 to 100 times and out of these only four to five times it was justified… such a party is giving us sermons,” he said. He said what happened in Arunachal and Uttarakhand was an internal problem of the Congress; the Centre had norole.
Naidu argued for a relook at the role of presiding officers of the assembly in disqualifying members and not convening sessions when a government loses the majority.
What stood out in the debate was a forceful argument by many regional parties to review the role of governors. Samajwadi Party’s Neeraj Shekhar claimed the governor of Uttar Pradesh is acting like a pracharak of the BJP and demanded his recall.
The Trinamool Congress’s Sukhendu Shekar Roy demanded that Article 157 dealing with appointment of governors be amended and made more specific, with eligibility and qualification criteria. The JD(U)’s Ram Nath Thakur and the CPI’s D Raja said it is time to debate the requirement for the post. The DMK’s Kanimozhi demanded the post be abolished and Article 356 taken out of the Constitution.
In his reply, Rijiju asked how the Congress can allege he was party to the developments in Arunachal. He said 21 MLAs of the Congress had camped in Delhi for four months but its leadership did not give them an audience. He said the Congress protest was “unfortunate” and it has “exposed the hollowness of the basis on which the Congress has tried to make this an issue”.