The UPA fall guy game has gone too far
By Sunita Govind
Bihar Governor Buta Singh is the latest fall guy as the Supreme Court for the first time in independent India'shistory held an executive decision taken by the Union Council of Ministers to be tainted with the vice of malafide.
Not that Singh is innocent. The apex court in a 3-2 verdict on January 24 found him guilty of ?subversion? of the Constitution for recommending the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly with the express intention of ?stalling? the Nitish Kumar-led JD (U)-BJP combine from forming a government in the state after the last Assembly elections in May 2005.
But it is the indictment of the Centre that is far more serious. Much unlike the declaration of any law as unconstitutional on some legal infirmities, in this case, the entire decision-making process beginning with the Governor making the recommendation and the Union Council of Ministers being the final authority accepting the same to invoke Article 356; has been held to be arbitrary, unconstitutional, malafide and based upon no cogent material warranting such an extreme step.
?This court cannot remain a silent spectator watching the subversion of the Constitution?, said the 198-page verdict pronounced by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice B.N. Agarwal and Justice Ashok Bhan.
The Hon?ble judges observed that the ?Council of Ministers should have verified the facts in the two reports sent by the Governor on April 27 and May 21, 2005,? instead of accepting it as ?gospel truth?.
In comparison to the indictment of the Governor, the comments of the court against the Union Cabinet, which accepted his report at a midnight meeting, appeared milder. The implications were apparent from the fact that being misled by the Governor, the Cabinet in effect without any independent verification woke up the President who was in Moscow and made him agree to a gross case of constitutional abuse.
In its interim order on October 7, 2005, the court had held that the dissolution of the Bihar Vidhan Sabha was unconstitutional and illegal.
Though in comparison to the indictment of the Governor, the comments of the court against the Union Cabinet, which accepted his report at a midnight meeting, appeared milder. The implications were apparent from the fact that being misled by the Governor, the Cabinet in effect without any independent verification woke up the President who was in Moscow and made him agree to a gross case of constitutional abuse.
However, Buta Singh'sresponse to the verdict was on expected lines. In a display of arrogance, he declared his intention to take the salute at the Republic Day function in Patna.
Having motivated him to do the dirty job, the government too put on a brave face and allowed him to fulfill his ?last desire? lest he spill the beans, and later asked him to step down.
Scared by the public reaction, even the CPI (M), which provides crucial outside support to the UPA government, said: ?In the light of this judgment, it will be appropriate for Buta Singh to step down from the post of Governor.?
?I don'tsee any way other than Governor Buta Singh to step down?, party General Secretary Prakash Karat said but chose to remain silent on the role of the Union Cabinet.
However, mincing no words, Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani said, ?Democratic accountability demands that both the Prime Minister and the Governor should quit their offices.?
?When the Prime Minister convened a cabinet meeting at the dead of the night, he was subserving the same motive which had prompted the Governor?preventing the duly-elected representatives of the people from forming a legitimate government?, he said.
An NDA delegation led by L.K. Advani and its Convener George Fernandes promptly called on the President the very next day and submitted a memorandum which said the apex court'sdecision had ?long-term implications for constitutional propriety, political morality and democratic accountability? and in the circumstances he should secure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh'sresignation and dismiss Buta Singh.
In a scathing criticism, Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh said, ?On Volcker, phone taping and Quattrocchi issues, our honourable Prime Minister'sconsistent stand is that I am ignorant. I don'tknow anything. At least direct Buta Singh to resign immediately to save the government of embarrassment.?
Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy said, ?There is no democratic alternative left for the Governor and the Prime Minister but to submit their resignations.?
What is disturbing for the polity is the tendency of the UPA government to locate a scapegoat and paint him as a villain whenever the UPA government lands in trouble because of its own sins.
The Buta Singh saga adds yet another chapter to the ever-growing list of UPA'sfailures beginning with Shibu Soren and including Jai Prakash Yadav, the Jharkhand episode, Bihar debacle, Natwar Singh and the Quattrocchi case.
Perhaps no other government in independent India'shistory has shamed the nation so much in so short a period. With an aggressive Opposition around, under the indomitable leadership of L.K. Advani in Parliament and Rajnath Singh outside, the coalition'sdays are undoubtedly numbered.