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How Congress has historically abused Article 356 to subvert democracy

When it comes to subverting democracy and exploiting constitutional loopholes, the Congress party has a history which is unmatched by any other political party in Independent India. If one looks at the number of times article 356 has been imposed by one prime minister, three out of the first four are the Congress-led central governments. Indira Gandhi imposed the article more than anyone else. It was imposed 50 times upon states. Manmohan Singh and Narashima Rao come a distant fourth and fifth with 12 and 11 number of times Article 356 was imposed respectively. Moraji Desai takes the third position with 15 times the article imposed. Here are a few instances of how The Congress abused the constitution for political gains –

Kerala, 1959

The Government was dismissed despite Communist Chief Minister EMS Namboodiripad enjoying majority support in the state assembly. In 1957, Communist Party of India won the state elections by a slim margin making it the first communist government in the country. Soon after assuming power the communists introduced an education bill, which pushed for better wages and better working conditions for teachers in private school and colleges. This brought the wrath of a section of Christians who owned much of the schools in the state.

The research paper on Shodhganga says :

“The Deepika, the Catholic daily served a severe warning to the government against any attempt to touch the delicate field of education.4 Then onwards the Catholic daily was making a gradual but concerted attempt to create a strong public opinion against any possible innovations by the government in the field of education. The Episcopal conference also issued a joint statement in which the church leaders served a warning to the government that if it embarked upon its proposed project for curtailing the rights of the school management, the church has no choice but to resist such moves tooth and nail and the government would have to suffer the consequences”.

The State Secretary of the Communist party M.N.Govindan Nair declared at Trichur that, “the trouble in the State was deliberate creation and the result of a conspiracy of the Imperialists, Congress and the Catholic Church, to sabotage the progressive government of the working class”.

Congress utilized this disgruntlement and started agitation throughout the state which turned violent and Nehru sensing the opportunity imposed President’s rule on the state in July 1959. The democratically elected government with the clear majority was dismissed.

Orissa, 1980

In one of the most bizarre instances of subversion of Democracy, the then Chief Minister of Odisha, Nilomani Routray’s government was ousted from power, Nilomani Routay of Janata party became the Chief Minister on 26th June of 1977. Chintamani Panigrahi, Leader of the Congress legislature party became the leader of the opposition. The Congress went through a split in 1978 with the party being divided into Indian National Congress (I) and Congress (U). The Janata party split into four groups in the year 1979 due to regional disputes about who will lead the party. Nobody moved any vote of confidence against the faction of the Janata Party, which was renamed by that name Lok Dal legislature party but despite that the governor Bhagwat Dayal Sharma dissolved the assembly and put the state under Presidential rule though Janta party had the numbers despite being fractured, all factions supported the current government. After this in the next election, Congress (I) swept the state winning 118 out of 147 Assembly constituencies.

Andhra, 1954

After the creation of the State Andhra on the basis of linguistics, a Congress government headed by T.Praksam (Congress) was sworn in on October 6, 1953. After a series of defections from the ruling party, the government failed to pass the confidence test of the house and was forced to resign through a no-confidence motion on the issues of prohibition. The governor, Trivedi without any consultation or deliberation with other stakeholders came to a conclusion that there is no possibility of a stable government and hence imposed President’s rule on November 15, 1954.  According to the rules, Mr Trivedi could at least have given the chance to the opposition parties – PSP and communist Parties to form the government just like Governor Dhavan Dhavan gave the communists in Bengal a chance to prove their majority in Bengal assembly.

Karnataka, 1989

Janata Dal Chief Minister, S.R. Bommai headed one of the two governments of Janata Dal that ruled Karnataka from 1985 to 1989. Ramakrishna Hegde government, the government (JD) which preceded S.R. Bommai government was ousted from power after the then governor A.N. Banerjee recommended a presidential rule. After that Janata Dal once again came back to power with Bommai as the Chief Minister. The Bommai government was again reduced to a minority in 1989 following which Governor A.N.Banerjee once again dismissed the government.

The Governor’s decision to not give a chance to the incumbent Chief Minister to prove his numbers through a floor test was challenged in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court gave a Judgement stating that no chief minister can be dismissed without giving him or her, the opportunity to hold a floor test.

India Today commenting upon the inglorious display of infringement of states in a federal system wrote

”The way the Janata Dal was dismissed, was yet another striking instance of a governor usurping the powers of the legislation”

Uttar Pradesh, 1998

In 1996 elections, the BJP secured around 174 seats, falling 39 short for the desired majority. Following which, the U.P state assembly was in kept in suspended animation and President’s rule was imposed subsequently. In 1997 BJP made an arrangement with Mayawati’s BSP which had 67 MLA’s. The terms of the agreement were that each party’s CM will rule the state in rotation lasting 6 months per rotation. Mayawati after her 6 months as chief minister accused Kalyan Singh of revoking orders issued by her in the interest of Dalits withdrew its support.

BJP responded by breaking BSP and Congress, Janatantrik BSP headed by Chaudhary Narendra Singh and Loktantrik Congress headed by Naresh Agarwal to lend their support to BJP. On February 21, 1998, while Lok Sabha elections were going on the then Governor Romesh Bhandari dismissed Singh’s government and swore in Congress’s Jagdambika Pal in his place.

Kalyan Singh challenged the decision in High Court and High Court reinstated him back to his position.

In addition to the aforementioned instances, after assuming power in 1980 Indira Gandhi imposed a presidential rule on non-congress ruled states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Gujrat. Indian democracy has died a humiliating death at the hands of the Congress many times, recently these instances are on the fall but it would be wrong to suppose that the people have forgotten the marred past of Congress and its democratic principles.

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