On Thursday, February 9, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recounted in the Rajya Sabha that Congress regimes at the Center had “abused” Article 356 of the Constitution 90 times to oust elected state governments, and that previous PM Indira Gandhi had done the same 50 times.
The Indian Constitution provides provisions under Article 356 for the imposition of “President’s Rule,” which overthrows an elected administration, in a state. Although the Constitution only allowed for the employment of Article 356 in extreme cases, central administrations, particularly the Janata government, of which members of the BJP’s forerunner Jana Sangh were a part, frequently employed the clause to settle political differences.
The Prime Minister’s dig at the Congress comes as the Opposition has asked for an inquiry into the Hindenburg Research accusations, and Rahul Gandhi has accused businessman Gautam Adani and his firms of profiting significantly from Adani’s long-standing relationship to the Prime Minister.
What does Article 356 actually say?
Article 356 authorises the President to withdraw to the Union the legislature and administrative responsibilities of any state “if he has decided that a situation has developed in which the government of the state cannot be carried out in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution”.
The President may assess whether the constitutional machinery has broken down at any moment, either following receipt of a report from the Governor or on his own initiative.
According to Article 356, a state’s President’s Rule can be imposed for six months at a time for a maximum of three years. Every six months, Parliamentary permission will be necessary to reinstate President’s Rule.
However, under certain conditions, President’s Rule has been extended for substantially longer lengths of time in the past. For example, due to rising militancy, Punjab was placed under President’s Rule from 1987 to 1992.
What is the history of Article 356?
Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935 inspired Article 356. This provision stated that if a Governor of a province was satisfied that a situation had arisen in which the province’s government could not be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the said Act, he could assume all or any of the powers of the government and discharge those functions in his discretion. The Governor, on the other hand, could not usurp the authority of the high court.
For the British, this clause provided for a “managed democracy” – while giving provincial governments considerable autonomy, Section 93 permitted the British authorities to assume ultimate power when required.
In independent India, how was the provision utilised as a political weapon?
Article 356 was utilised against governments of the Left and regional parties in the states during the decades of Congress’s supremacy at the Centre.
Until 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru’s administration invoked the article six times, notably to depose Kerala’s first-ever elected communist government. It was used 11 times in the 1960s. Between 1967 and 1969, when Indira came to power in 1966, Article 356 was used seven times.
The political climate was more volatile in the 1970s. President’s Rule was enforced 19 times between 1970 and 1974. In the aftermath of the Emergency, the Janata Party administration utilised it to summarily remove nine Congress state governments in 1977. When Indira Gandhi regained power in 1980, her administration implemented President’s Rule in nine states as well.
In the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992-93, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao dissolved three BJP administrations, including Kalyan Singh’s government in Uttar Pradesh.
How was this political abuse of Article 356 dealt with?
The S R Bommai administration in Karnataka was deposed by the Centre in 1989. The Supreme Court considered the terms of Article 356 in detail in its decision in the landmark S. R. Bommai v. Union of India case.
In its judgement in 1994, a nine-judge Bench underlined the exact occasions where President’s Rule can and cannot be implemented.
The court ruled that while Article 356 can be invoked in cases of physical breakdown of the government or a “hung assembly,” it cannot be used without first giving the state government a chance to prove its majority in the House or without instances of violent breakdown of the constitutional machinery.