People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 25, 2007
Abjure Political Myopia
THE Election Commissionís announcement of the poll schedule for the Uttar Pradesh state assembly must put to rest all political manoeuvring that was seeking to invoke Article 356 of the Constitution to impose Presidentís rule in the state.
Following the Supreme Courtís disqualification of 13 Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs who had defected to support Mulayam Singh to form the government in September 2003, efforts were being made to argue that since the government has been rendered as illegal, it should be dismissed. In addition to these 13, 24 other MLAs, who also defected, were likely to meet the same fate. With the reduction of 37 MLAs support, the government, the country was being told, had become a minority and, hence, should be dismissed. However, with the consequent decline in the size of the assembly, the number required for a majority would also proportionately decline. Hence, to come to any conclusion of a minority and a majority can only be done through a vote on the floor of the House.
Apart from such technicalities, the important political aspect is to prevent, once again, the continuous misuse and abuse of Article 356 to settle political scores. The Supreme Courtís Bommai judgment in 1994 contributing significantly in checking the misuse of Article 356 ruled that a vote on the floor of the House is the only way to establish the majority or minority of a government. By implication, this suggests that Article 356 can be invoked, under such circumstances of disputed claims, only when a government reduced to a minority through a vote in the assembly refuses to resign.
It is this principled position that the CPI(M) had advocated through the course of the past week. Those who argue that permitting the Mulayam Singh government in Uttar Pradesh to have a floor test is tantamount to allowing horse-trading and encouraging political immorality will do well to recollect the apex courtís admonishment of the then Governor of Bihar, Buta Singh, last year, for having recommended the dissolution of the state assembly on similar grounds of ďhorse-tradingĒ stating that Article 356 could not be invoked on the basis of perceptions. The only place to test the legitimacy of any government, the apex court reiterated, is on the floor of the House.
Unable to challenge the moral consistency and the strength of the principled positions taken by the CPI(M), some media reports went to absurd limits and spread canards that the CPI(M)ís stand was determined by an opportunistic mobilisation of strength for its presidential candidate! The fact of the matter is that the CPI(M) has neither decided on fielding any candidate for Presidency nor has the matter of the Presidential elections itself ever come up for discussions in any of its committees. Only after the composition of the state assemblies, in Uttar Pradesh and other states where elections are due, is known can the composition of the electoral college that elects the President of India be determined. The CPI(M) will take its decision regarding this only subsequently.
Politically, the CPI(M) has already decided that it shall contest the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh independently. Though recognising the fact that the Samajwadi Party continues to remain the strongest secular force in the state, and having contested earlier elections in alliance with the SP, the CPI(M) has taken this decision due to serious disagreements with some of the policies and the quality of governance that the SP has provided. Notwithstanding this, it must be recognised that seeking to dismiss the government and hoping to dent the SP support base, can only be beneficial to the BJP or the BSP in the state. With the possibilities of a post-electoral understanding between the BJP and the BSP, this can only mean the strengthening of the communal forces. Surely, the UPA, which in the first place, came into existence with the explicit purpose of keeping the communal forces away from power in the interests of both the country and the people, cannot take such steps which strengthen those very communal forces! This would have been political myopia at its worst. Steering clear from such short-sightedness and based on a clear political understanding, the CPI(M) opposed the move to invoke Article 356 to dismiss the Uttar Pradesh state government.
Finally, cognisance must be taken of the serious apprehensions that money and muscle power will be used liberally to distort the democratic verdict in the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. The Election Commission, bestowed with the constitutional authority to conduct free and fair elections, must take all necessary measures to allay such apprehensions. The seven-phase poll, the longest ever in the history of independent India, must have been drawn up in order to ensure utmost fairness. The UPA government must assist the Election Commission in providing all support that is sought to conduct a free and fair poll in Uttar Pradesh.
Once the dust has settled in the post-election situation, the country must urgently and seriously consider CPI(M)ís suggestions and those from many other quarters to amend Article 356 of the Constitution to ensure that its gross abuse and misuse can be prevented in the future.