Four instances when states faced unstable governments

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 17, 2017 17:30 hrs

After the split in the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the government was thrown into turmoil. After two weeks of dramatic events, the Governor finally swore in Edapadi Palanisamy from Sasikala’s faction as the Chief Minister. Questions were raised about the imposition of President’s Rule and the role of the Governor. While the situation in TN was a case of split within the party, there have been several instances where governments have been stabilised due to deflection or because of uneasy alliances. Here are four such instances and how they were resolved.

Tamil Nadu, 1989

For many, the present battle between rival factions led by Sasikala and O.Paneerselvam is reminiscent of the situation when AIADMK’s founder M.G Ramachandram died in 1987. Jayalalithaa was slowly rising in the ranks of the party because of her proximity to MGR, but not everyone was happy. News 18 quotes her biographer Vaasanthi who said -

Jayalalithaa was fresh, pretty, sophisticated and spoke impeccable English. Her maiden speech in the Parliament was well appreciated by the likes of Khushwant Singh. Even Indira Gandhi was impressed by her presence in Parliament and the way she stood up for issues.

The Deccan Chronicle details the events that took place immediately following MGR’s death. The Tamil Nadu Governor Khurana appointed senior leader Dr Nedunchezhiyan as the acting Chief Minister.

Once Mrs. Janaki Ramachandran was elected as leader of the AIADMK legislature party on January 7, 1988 the Dr Nedunchezhiyan-led interim cabinet resigned “on the forenoon” that day and Mr. Khurana lost no time in appointing a new Ministry with effect from the same day.

A motion expressing confidence in her Council of Ministers was passed with 99 ayes and 8 nays in the Assembly. This was made possible after the Speaker, a supporter of Janaki, disqualified MLAs who were known to be supporters of Jayalalithaa and with many in the opposition boycotting the vote. Later that month, late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi imposed President’s Rule for almost a year. And elections took place again in January 1989. It received widespread coverage from the national and even international media due to Gandhi’s presence. The New York Times reported

In normal times a state assembly election might not be expected to generate this much high-level national attention or to demand the multimillion-dollar budgets of this 1989 campaign. The Congress Party has been no more than a minority presence in Tamil Nadu for two decades. But the stakes are high in Tamil Nadu this time.

The Election Commission refused to let either of the two AIADMK factions have the famous ‘two leaves’ symbol due to which Jayalalithaa’s group was given a cock and the Janaki faction, which contested as independents, got a dove. The split resulted in the DMK and its allies winning 169 seats, and AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa faction winning 27 seats, decisively higher than her opponent’s 2 seats. This marked the beginning of Jayalalithaa’s reign in Tamil Nadu politics.

Uttar Pradesh, 1998
On the impasse in Tamil Nadu, Congress leader P.Chidambaram told Times Now that the Governor ought to follow the UP precedent.

If there is only one claimant, the Governor can swear-in the claimant and ask him to prove his majority. If there are two claimants, the Governor should call a composite vote

He was referring to the time when the BJP government led by Kalyan Singh was dismissed in 1998. Rediff reported that Jagadambiga Pal, leader of the Loktantric Congress, was a minister in the government and an ally of the BJP who decided to withdraw support to the government saying –

Of late, Kalyan Singh had turned more and more communal in his behvaviour, and the turning point came with his objectionable statements on the Ayodhya issue, that was followed by riots in a few places. We realised that enough was enough and that we could not have got along with the BJP any longer.

The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party immediately vouched support for the Loktantric Congress which led to the Governor dismissing the government as it had only 197 members in the 425 member assembly. BJP leaders including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajnath Singh strongly supported the Chief Minister and said that the Governor ought to have given them a chance to prove majority. The Governor however, met with constitutional experts and decided to proceed with Pal’s swearing in.

The Allahabad High Court through an interim order re-instated Singh as the Chief Minister on 24th February 1998 and a composite floor test was ordered to see if his government enjoyed the majority. The next day secret ballot was held at the Vidhan Sabha -

Since unprecedented situations warrant novel arrangements, the speaker invited both Pal and Singh to be seated on special chairs placed on either side of the speaker's podium. A large wooden ballot box, duly thrown open for inspection by all and also overturned on Mayawati's insistence, was placed below the podium, while members were called in batches of five (in the serial order of the constituencies) to cast their vote on the ballot paper bearing names of the two claimants.

With 225 votes, Kalyan Singh held on to the majority and was declared the winner. Although there was controversy about 12 BSP MLAs deflecting, the proceedings were peaceful given the Supreme Court’s strong warning that any violence would be taken serious note of.

Karnataka, 2006
The 2004 election resulted in a hung assembly with the neither the BJP, Congress nor the Janata Dal (Secular) winning a clear majority. This resulted in an alliance between the Congress and the JD (S). However, in 2006, H.D Kuaraswamy and 46 of the JD(s) MLAs withdrew support to the Congress and switched sides to the BJP by coming to an agreement that they would share power for 20 months each. However, differences began to grow with Kumaraswamy refusing to step down as Chief Minister as per their agreement leading the BJP to revolt and withdraw support. In October, the Governor recommended President’s Rule in Karnataka despite Kumaraswamy’s offer to resign.

The Indian Express reported that by late October, fearing that the Congress would call for the Assembly to be dissolved, BJP and JDS sorted out their differences and at a joint meeting agreed to work under the leadership of BJP’s Yediyurappa. They even paraded their legislators before Governor Thakur and later to President Prathiba Patil in New Delhi urging quick action. BJP State President D.V Sadananda Gowda appeared confident –

The Governor has taken into account the affidavits presented by 80 MLAs on behalf of the BJP and 49 MLAs for the JDS, and has verified the numbers through a head count. He has promised to send a report to the President and has assured us of a decision in line with the popular sentiment.

The Governor finally invited Yedayurappa to form the government in November 2007 which lasted only for a eight days as the JDS MLAs were issued a diktat by Gowda to once again withdraw support to the BJP for their refusal to commit to a power sharing agreement. For the second time it was President’s rule once again for the state till May the following year when BJP emerged as the largest party in Assembly elections and Yediurappa was sworn in as Chief Minister.

Uttarakhand, 2016
The Congress led government in Uttarakhand faced a crisis when several of their MLAs, led by the former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna threatened to vote against the budget, effectively revolting against their party and joining the rival BJP. On 18th March, the speaker declared that the Budget presented by Chief Minister Harish Rawat was passed with voice votes and yet sent show cause notices to the 9 MLAs for defying the party whip. The BJP and the rebel MLAs accused the speaker of acting in a partisan manner and even moved a no confidence motion against him. As this article by Sanjay Singh in The First Post points out -

If the Speaker is right in his claim then the nine Congress MLAs didn’t defy their party whip and said “ayes” in voice vote. In that case they shouldn’t have been sent disqualification notices. Conversely, if these nine MLAs did defy the party whip and voted against government’s budgetary proposals then the number of MLAs who said “No” was much larger than those approving it. This means that voice vote went against the government.

The very next day, the Governor issued a directive to the Rawat government saying that they would have to prove majority by the end of the month.

While BJP claims the support of 35 MLAs including nine rebel Congress legislators, chief minister Harish Rawat says he still enjoys a majority in the 70-member House as none of the so-called rebel MLAs has quit the party.

The High Court did not provide reprieve to the rebel MLAs who sought a stay on their disqualification from participating in the confidence vote. However, on 27th March, the Centre decided to impose President’s Rule using the speaker’s actions as justification. A legal battle ensued when Rawat government went to the Uttarakhan High Court.

The single judge did not pass any order on the legality of the President’s Rule nor did it stay the proclamation. The single judge issued directions for the floor test. It appeared a flawed order. The division bench, after hearing at length the concerned parties, has rightly set aside the Presidential order and ruled for the test of majority on the floor of the assembly.

However, soon after, the BJP government at the centre challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court who ruled in their favour in April, effectively extending the President’s rule. Finally the floor test was held on 11th May with Rawat winning 33 votes as opposed to BJP’s 28 in the 61 member Assembly. According to the First Post, outside support was key despite the fact that the 9 rebel MLAs were disqualified –

in a situation where literally every vote matters because of such close competition, the support of allies and the issue of rebels within a party assume much greater significance.One of the most important factions that supported the Congress was the PDF, that comprises two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislators, one from the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and three Independents.

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