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Amend Article 356: CPM
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 18
As political uncertainty over the imposition of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh continues, the key ally of the UPA coalition, the CPM, today demanded amendments in Article 356 to prevent its arbitrary usage.

“Raj Bhavan or Delhi cannot decide on the imposition of President’s rule. We are against the imposition of Article 356 in Uttar Pradesh,” CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat said here today.

Mr Karat said, "A cure for a bad government is not the imposition of Article 356."

He said the BJP had dismissed the RJD-led Bihar government, which was termed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. “I hope the UPA would not commit the same mistake.”

Quoting the Bommai judgement, he said whether the state government commands a majority in the legislature must be tested on the floor of the House.

Asked about the Congress allegation that the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led UP Government was “illegal”, as the Supreme Court had disqualified 13 legislators who had defected from the BSP to the Chief Minister's side, the CPM leader said “The Congress had then supported the Samajwadi Party in forming the government. Does that mean that the decision taken by the state government since then was illegal? It is the floor the House where the decision whether the government commands a majority should be tested.”

“The elections to the UP Assembly are only two months away, let the people decide the fate of the government,” he asserted.

Mr Karat pointed out that the DMK and the RJD, the two parties that were victims of the “draconian” clause of the Constitution, were now partners of the UPA.

Taking a dig at the BJP, he said the sub-committee of the Inter-State Council had deliberated on Article 356 and recommended suggestions to prevent mid-night proclamations. The BJP, TDP, Akali Dal apart from the Left parties and some other regional parties are signatories to it.

“It is ironical that now the BJP is openly demanding the imposition of President’s rule in UP.”

On the specific amendments the Left is seeking in Article 356, Mr Karat said the state government should be given seven days notice as to why action should not be taken, Governor’s report should be a speaking one, subject to judicial and public scrutiny and the proposal of the imposition of President’s rule should be subject to approval in both Houses of Parliament.

A study by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), showed that out of the 111 cases of the imposition of President’s rule since the Constitution came into force in 1950, only in a little over 20 instances it could be said that Article 356 had been misused to deal with political problems or considerations such as maladministration.

Asked about the consultations the Congress is holding with its allies, Mr Karat said it is a positive sign.

The next few days will be crucial, as the Congress party - the main partner in the governing coalition - is trying to convince its allies. For the moment, except Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, no other ally backs President’s rule.

The DMK party in Tamil Nadu, a key coalition partner, has said it does not favour the move.

The government is extremely cautious and it does not want a Bihar-like situation in Uttar Pradesh and be faced with the embarrassment of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, stung by the Buta Singh episode, might take his own time to sign the proclamation.

Bommai judgement

The Bommai judgement of May 1994 could make it difficult for the UPA government to impose President’s rule in UP. Delivered by the Supreme Court, the judgement defined the use of Article 356 and the imposition of President’s rule.

The judgement said: “Whenever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House. The sole exception to this will be a situation of all-pervasive violence where the Governor comes to the conclusion and records the same in his report that for the reasons mentioned by him, a free vote is not possible.”

The Standing Committee took the following decisions in regard to the ‘Emergency provisions’:

  • Article 356 should be used as a measure of last resort.
  • A show-cause notice be issued to the state government before taking action under Article 356, except in a situation when not taking immediate action would lead to disastrous consequences.
  • In case of an ‘external aggression’ or ‘internal disturbance’ paralysing the state administration, all alternative courses available to the Union under Article 355 should be exhausted to contain the situation.
  • Proclamation be placed before Parliament within two months of its issuance, and that the Legislative Assembly should not be dissolved before the Presidential Proclamation issued under Article 465(1) has been laid before the Parliament and the Parliament has had an opportunity to consider it.
  • The Governor’s report be in the nature of a ‘speaking document’.

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