Arunachal Pradesh is headed for a constitutional crisis, with the governor’s office accused of favouring the Congress’s rebel MLAs and the BJP in the state. Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the winter session of the assembly by a month and issue directions to vote on a resolution calling for the removal of the speaker at the first sitting of the House, with the deputy speaker in the chair, suggests a clear case of gubernatorial overreach.
The Gauhati High Court on Thursday suspended the governor’s directive until February 1, but his interventions have further muddied the troubled relations between the Congress and BJP. The Congress, which rules in Itanagar, disrupted the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, demanding the ouster of Governor Rajkhowa. A day earlier, party MPs led by Sonia Gandhi met President Pranab Mukherjee to complain about the governor’s actions and seek his intervention. That the governor, as the constitutional head of the state, is bound to act on the advice of the council of ministers, has been spelt out more than once by the Supreme Court. In Union of India vs Valluri Basavaiah Chaudhary (1979), a Constitution bench held that the governor is a “constitutional head of the state executive, and has, therefore to act on the advice of the council of ministers”. The governor has the power to summon, prorogue and dissolve the assembly under Article 174, but here again, the apex court has said that he is bound by the advice of the council of ministers.
This political crisis started with a rebellion in the Congress legislature party. A few rebel MLAs were suspended by the speaker. The governor should have stayed away from the chaos and waited for the Nabam Tuki government to take a floor test in the assembly, when the session convened on January 14. His decision to advance the session to December 16 without seeking the advice of the state cabinet, and pushing for a vote on the resolution to remove the speaker, has cost him the government’s trust. Yet, the governor’s seemingly partisan action does not justify the unbecoming spectacle of the government refusing to let the opposition into the assembly. There are clearly laid out procedures to test the majority of a government. Governor Rajkhowa, and Arunachal Pradesh’s legislators, need to follow them.