Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Am sure I will be accused of being anti-Federal.. but then...
That the social fabric in Orissa and in Karnataka is now torn with violence being reported from town after town is indeed a cause for concern. The attacks, in these two States, are clearly a planned one and the perpetrators belong to the Bajrang Dal and such other outfits that have been behind similar such attacks in the Dangs district in Gujarat (almost a decade ago) or in some of the tribal dominated regions of Madhya Pradesh. The target of such attacks, then and now, are members belonging to the Christian community and their places of worship.

And the State Governments in both Karnataka and in Orissa have refused to do what is ordained of them by the Constitution. This was true in the Dangs in Gujarat and in the Madhya Bharat region of Madhya Pradesh then. It is also a case that the Union Government, whose political rationale begins and ends with the stated commitment to save the secular socio-political edifice has not found the basis, until now, to put the State Governments on notice.

Now, Article 355 of the Constitution has at least been invoked in the case of Karnataka. The provision as such means very little. At best, invoking it can serve the purpose of setting on record that the Union Government expressed its concern over the developments in the State. It is not even an advisory in that sense. An advisory, after all, can also mean a strong censure. But then, it is still baffling me that the Manmohan Singh Government did not think of doing even this much in the case of Orissa. And stranger that there was no such demand from any quarter in this regard.

One explanation to this would be that the law and order situation in Karnataka is more important given the fact that disruption of normal life in the towns in Karnataka could have its impact on the IT industry and thus adversely affect the nation’s image! Orissa, after all, is not as IT ised as Karnataka is and the violent attacks and the arson in settlements where the tribals happen to be Christians could help drive them out of those settlements and pave the way for the mining mafia to encroach those lands and dig deep into the soil and make money by exporting whatever minerals deposited there!

I do realize that this is making things appear a bit trivial. But then, it is simply strange why the Union Government did not consider invoking Article 355, the innocuous Constitutional provision, in Orissa. This is not to say that invoking Article 355 is enough. It is, at best, a necessary precedent, as prescribed by the Supreme Court (in the SR Bommai vs Union of India case) and also a condition that late President K.R.Narayanan stressed upon when he as President returned a Union Cabinet recommendation to impose Central rule in Bihar. In either instance, it is not made out that Article 355, as a provision, can be treated as a remedy to the failing Constitutional scheme of things in a State.

And this leads us to discuss the scope for Article 356 of the Constitution in these two States. Such a demand, interestingly, has not been raised from any quarter. This, perhaps, is an indication that Article 356 of the Constitution is now, and at long last, a dead letter. This was, indeed, the spirit of the consensus arrived at in the Constituent Assembly while the Article was included in the Constitution. But then, the reasons that drove the makers of the Constitution to express their desire that Article 356 remains a dead letter of the statute was different.

They were all committed to the ideal of federalism. And the fact is that this aspect was violated with impunity by the whole spectrum of the political establishment. And even when the scope for such abuse was sealed by the apex court in the SR Bommai case in 1993, there was an important dimension to that judgment. An integral part of that judgment happened to address the question of Secularism and the failure of a State Government to protect this aspect of the Constitution (the apex court also held that secularism constituted a basic feature of the Constitution) was held a constitutionally valid basis for the dismissal of a State Government by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution.

This was the basis on which the apex court held the dismissal of the BJP-led Governments inMadhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid as valid and perfectly in line with the Constitution. This aspect of the judgment, unfortunately, is not discussed in any political debate. Well. The Bommai judgment was and is useful to political parties across the spectrum to defend inaction by the Central Government even while life and property of a large number of citizens are in danger. And this indeed is a cause for concern.


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