Monday, November 2, 2015

Article 356 under different parties

Recently I read on social media an argument from somebody that Indian National Congress has destroyed the democracy in India by repeatedly using article 356. It sounded intuitive so I thought that I should look at real data. Here are some salient features of how article 356 has been used at different times in history of India.

  • It has been used totally 124 times by different prime ministers for different reasons. I have used Wikipedia's classification of underlying reason for invocation of article 356.
Following are the reasons given for invocation of article 356. Here is the list and a description of what I mean by that.
  • Breakdown of Law and Order -- General breakdown of law and order. Government in charge doesn't seem to be able to bring order to state. There are many instances of this being invoked after the demolition of Babari Masjid. Total 11 instances at different times.
  • Controversial Vote of Confidence -- The party in power passed the vote on confidence through not proper means. Total 4 times
  • Corruption - A major member in government indulged in corruption leading to the fall of the government. Total 1 time
  • Death of chief minister - Death of sitting chief minister and ruling party could not elect a candidate quickly enough - Total 1 time
  • Defections - Defections were engineered resulting in loss ruling party. Total 7 times
  • Disqualification - Chief minister's was disqualified  - Total 1 time
  • Elections Called - Elections were called and chief minister was removed and president's rule imposed - Total 1 time
  • Facilitate reorganization - President's rule was imposed to facilitate the reorganization of state. Total 3 times
  • Fishy - These are clear cases when the ruling party had the complete majority and still central government dismissed them for no obvious reason. Total  36 times
  • Loss of Majority - Ruling party lost the majority in the house. Total 42 times
  • No Majority - Elections resulted in no formation in a position to form the government. Total 8 times
  • Referendum for Goa Merger with Maharashtra - This is a one-off instance where Goa government was dismissed to hold a referendum on the topic of merger of Goa with Maharashtra
  • Resignation - Resignation of the chief minister and the government. Total 4 times
  • Statehood Demand -  Loss of law and order due to statehood demand. Total 3 times
  • Technicality - One off case of imposition of president's rule to pass the budget on account while the government formation was still ongoing and there was no chief minister and assembly.
So clearly many of the above cases seem genuine but I was interested in the cases which are marked Fishy. These are cases when the government center clearly misused its power.
Invocation of 356 by different PMs for different reasons
Above graph shows instances of 356 invocation by different prime ministers. Clearly The two biggest causes seem to be Fishy and Loss of Majority.
Invocation of art. 356 by different prime ministers for fishy reasons

We now look at different prime ministers who invoked article 356 for seemingly fishy reasons. Clearly Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai and top two with PV Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru behind them.
The problem with this figure is that it does not take into account the tenure of each of these prime ministers. So the next chart presents invocation of article 356 per 100 days in power by each of the prime ministers.
Invocation of 356 by different prime ministers per 100 days in power
When we look at this data, a slightly different picture emerges. Morarji Desai is clearly on the top now primarily because of an extremely short tenure, followed by Charan Singh, Chandra Shekar and followed by PVN and Rajiv Gandhi. Indira Gandhi falls behind because of a very short tenure. The best guys seem to be Dr. Manmohan Singh, H D Deve Gowda and Lal Bahadur Shastri who did not use to for the wrong reason at all. Of course Guljari Lal Nanda is there but then he had an extremely short tenure. Atal Bihar Vajpayee has also used it extremely sparingly.
Again, this is only half the picture. If we put the same data over the different years, we see a following picture.
Article 356 over the years
In the above pictures, we have removed incumbent prime ministers, We are just looking at the total invocations of article 356 and fishy invocations of article 356. You see a interesting picture. The worst period seems to be between 1971 to 1980. This was the period of Indira Gandhi losing the power and large scale sacking of congress governments by existing Janata Party government and then Indira Gandhi coming back to power and a tit-for-tat sacking of all existing state governments at that time. Clearly that was the worst period in India as far as politics is concerned.
Barring that period, the invocation of article 356 has stabilized in last few decades. it is hovering between 45 and 70 and seems to be random. It is neither getting worse nor getting better. What is surprising though that fishy invocations have stopped since 1996. We may be inclined to give credit to the maturity of politicians, but that is only the half truth. Here is really what happened.

The Janata Party being the majority party in the State Legislature had formed Government under the leadership of S.R. Bommai. In September 1988, the Janata Party and Lok Dal merged into a new party called Janata Dal. The Ministry was expanded with addition of 13 members. Within two days thereafter, one K.R. Molakery, a legislator of Janata Dal defected from the party. He presented a letter to the Governor along with 19 letters, allegedly signed by legislators supporting the Ministry, withdrawing their support to the Ministry. 
On 20-4-1989 after receiving a report from the governer, the president issued a proclaimation imposing president's rule in Karnataka.
A writ petition was filed on 26th April 1989 challenging the validity of the proclamation. A special bench of 3 judges of Karnataka High Court dismissed the writ petition.  Finally this petition alongwith similar cases related to dismissal of governments in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh contained similar question of law and therefore they were heard conjointly by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The arguments in the S.R. Bommai’s case commenced in the first week of October 1993 and were concluded in the last week of December 1993.
 On 11-March-1994, court passed an order invalidating the proclaimation of president's rule and laid down the guidelines regarding the use of the article 356.

  1. The majority enjoyed by the Council of Ministers shall be tested on the floor of the House. 
  2. Centre should give a warning to the state and a time period of one week to reply. 
  3. The court cannot question the advice tendered by the CoMs to the President but it can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President. Hence, Judicial Review will involve three questions only : 
    1. Is there any material behind the proclamation
    2. Is the material relevant. 
    3. Was there any mala fide use of power. 
    4. If there is improper use of A356 then the court will provide remedy. 
    5. Under Article 356(3) it is the limitation on the powers of the President. Hence, the president shall not take any irreversible action until the proclamation is approved by the Parliament i.e. he shall not dissolve the assembly. 
    6. A356 is justified only when there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery and not administrative machinery

So that put a stop to any misused of article 356 that's why we don't see any such cases after 1995.
In summary, politicians of all parties misused the article 345 for their benefit till the time the supreme court stepped in and put a stop to it.