By Shyam Khosla
The Congress party'strack record of contemptuous disregard of constitutional proprieties and democratic norms is too well known to surprise keen observers and this is ardent by the party'scynical approach to the Supreme Court'sverdict declaring unconstitutional the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly. However, it is shocking that the Prime Minister, perceived to be an honest person and a gentleman politician, should refrain from taking action on the apex court'ssevere indictment. Appointing a tainted person like Buta Singh as head of a State was itself a grave constitutional impropriety. How could the Prime Minister, who was a cabinet minister in the Rao government, manage to ignore the role Buta Singh played in the JMM bribery case? The manner in which the sons of the Governor acted as extra-constitutional authorities during the President'srule couldn'thave escaped the Prime Minister'sattention. No one is surprised that the Governor didn'tresign of his own after the apex court verdict. He is not known for strictly adhering to democratic norms and constitutionalism. The question is why didn'tthe Prime Minister ask him to step down? Was it because of the apprehension that the Governor may spill the beans if he was eased out? Or is the Prime Minister worried that sacking the Governor may embolden the Opposition to demand his scalp?
It is no secret that the Prime Minister had allowed himself to be blackmailed by the Railway Minister who was keen for the dissolution of the Assembly to prevent NDA staking its claim to form the government. The mid-night coup staged by the Cabinet tarnished the Government'simage to no end. Unfortunately, the President, a noble soul, has been embroiled in the controversy. Questions have been raised as to why the President didn'treturn the notification (that was later declared unconstitutional by the apex court) for reconsideration and signed it in the early hours of the morning when he was on a state visit to Moscow.
It is thinking of ways and means to circumvent the court judgment. Equally significant is the Allahabad High Court order against reservations for Muslims in professional colleges of AMU. The severest censure came in the Bihar case
The UPA government is guilty of countless instances of violating democratic norms. The case pertaining to removal of certain governors appointed by the NDA government is pending in the court. But for the apex court'seffective intervention, the mockery of democratic norms in Jharkhand might have succeeded. In the IMDT Act case, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Government for its failure to stop the ?silent invasion? from Bangladesh. The Government'sresponse is far from satisfactory. Instead of faithfully implementing the court order, it is thinking of ways and means to circumvent the court judgment. Equally significant is the Allahabad High Court order against reservations for Muslims in professional colleges of AMU. The severest censure came in the Bihar case where the dissolution of the Assembly has been declared unconstitutional. These and other instances of Congress party'sarrogance of power are revealing. There is no change in the mindset of the party. It believes it has the divine right to rule the country and is not obliged to conform to constitutionalism. This despite the fact that it is a marginal party in several states including U.P. and Bihar. Its leaders have the audacity to say that the Government doesn'tagree with the apex court'sjudgment on Bihar. As if the verdict'slegitimacy depends upon executive concurrence. Union Law Minister H R Bhardwaj sought to give a new twist to the tragic events by referring to the fact that the five-member bench was divided 3-2 and suggesting that the Government may go in for a review. The Minister'sstatement has given rise to several disturbing questions. First, what is his source of information that the bench was divided 3-2? The court merely said it was a majority judgment. How did the Minister come to know that two judges were in disagreement with the order? More importantly, does a judicial verdict lose its significance if it is not unanimous? Is a law passed by a majority of members in a legislature less legitimate than the one passed unanimously? Of course, a unanimously adopted law may have more political acceptability but legally it will be at par with a law adopted with even a thin majority.
The court'sdecision not to restore the dissolved Assembly is on expected lines. The famous Bommai case of 1994 that enabled the apex court to assume sweeping powers to check any misuse of Article 356 had said that courts could ?mould? the relief to meet the requirements of a given situation. The apex court exercised its discretionary powers and held that it was not a case where the status quo ante deserved to be ordered to restore the Assembly. Notification for holding first round of elections had been issued and the court had not stayed the issuance of the said notification. Never before had the apex court interfered in the election process once it was set in motion. The court did the right thing by not restoring the Assembly. The Railway Minister may celebrate this as his ?victory?. It is the Bihar voter who will decide who the real victor is.
One lesson everyone concerned need to learn from the Bihar tragedy is that the electorate may give a split verdict but it is wrong to read it as a vote for President'srule. Instead of rushing to dissolve the Assembly, the Governor'sduty is to allow adequate time for re-alignment of forces?howsoever rickety it may be?to secure a majority in the House. This, of course, doesn'tmean allowing horse-trading. Most importantly, time has come for the legislature to lay down norms for the appointment of governors. The fond hope of the founding fathers of the Constitution that eminent persons would be appointed to the high office has been belied. Else, the judiciary may intervene in the arena earmarked for the executive and the legislature. If the executive and the legislature fail in their duty, no one will have the moral right to blame the judiciary for crossing the Laxmanrekha.