From Bommai to Kumaraswamy, story is the same: Rahul Gandhi should read the 1994 SC judgement before commenting on Karnataka
Congress has been instrumental in dismissing state governments arbitrarily more than 40 times, including SR Bommai's Janata Dal government in Karnataka in 1989
The fall of the coalition government of the JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka saw an end to the constitutional crisis which the state was pushed into for nearly 3 weeks. Notwithstanding the unholy coalition, Rahul Gandhi and several Congress leaders like Siddaramaiah are making holier-than-thou statements blaming the BJP for conspiring for the fall of the government and souring of the centre-state relationship.
What Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah forget is that the 2018 mandate was a vote against their rule of 5 years and that they managed to form a government in a unethical, post-poll alliance only to keep the BJP away and continue to savor political power. It would also augur well for the Congress to recall the way it has dismissed state government arbitrarily more than 40 times since independence. Congress had a habit of dismissing any state government which was inimical to its interests by abusing Article 356. This practice was a curtailed by the Supreme Court in its 1994 judgement over the S. R. Bommai vs Union of India case.
What is the SR Bommai case?
S.R. Bommai was the Chief Minister of the Janata Dal government in Karnataka between August 1988 and April 1989. In April 1989, a JD(S) legislator defected and claimed that he and 19 others have withdrawn support to the government. The governor sent a report stating that Bommai's government had lost majority. Though Bommai had informed the governor that he could prove his majority as most of those who had defected came back to the party's fold, the Rajiv Gandhi's government was quick enough to dismiss Bommai's government on April 21, 1989 under Article 356 of the Constitution and imposed President's rule in the state.
SR Bommai petitioned the high court against the Governor’s decision to recommend President’s Rule. Since the Karnataka High Court dismissed his petition, he approached the Supreme Court. The case in the supreme court dragged on for 5 years to see a logical conclusion. On March 11, 1994, a nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court issued the historic order, which in a way put an end to the arbitrary dismissal of State governments under Article 356 by spelling out restrictions.
1994 SC judgement and its relevance to Karnataka
The SC verdict categorically ruled that the floor of the Assembly of a state is the only forum that should test the majority of the government of the day, and not the subjective opinion of the Governor. "The Chief Minister of every State who has to discharge his constitutional functions will be in perpetual fear of the axe of Proclamation falling on him because he will not be sure whether he will remain in power or not and consequently he has to stand up every time from his seat without properly discharging his constitutional obligations and achieving the desired target in the interest of the State," the Court had said.
The 1994 SC verdict also concluded that the power of the President to dismiss a State government is not absolute. The judgement said the President should exercise the power only after his proclamation (imposition of president's rule) is approved by both Houses of Parliament. Till then, the Court said, the President can only suspend the Legislative Assembly by suspending the provisions of Constitution relating to the Legislative Assembly. "The dissolution of Legislative Assembly is not a matter of course. It should be resorted to only where it is found necessary for achieving the purposes of the Proclamation," the Court said.
Rahul Gandhi, Siddaramaiah and other Congress leaders who cry murder of democracy at the drop of a hat, should look back at their own party's history of wantonly dismissing state governments. They should thank the Karnataka governor and the central government for not rushing to impose President's rule unlike Rajiv and Indira Gandhi. Both the Governor and the central government waited patiently for the constitutional process to complete notwithstanding the fact that the JD(s)-Cong coalition CM neglected the Governor’s directive to prove the majority on the floor of the house thrice.
As per the SC judgement, the floor of the Karnataka assembly was allowed to decide the fate of the coalition government. Except a direction to the speaker to conduct the mandated trust vote, neither the governor nor the central government interfered in a hurry only to dismiss the state government. Instead of looking within for the poor mandate they have received and by blaming the BJP, the Congress is only proving that the entire episode is nothing but a case of 'sour grapes' for them.