Political parties must avoid misuse of Article 356, respect cooperative federalism, says India Legal editor

New Delhi : Political parties and their leaders must avoid misusing Article 356 at all costs for political gain and only use it in the rarest of rare cases, as was envisioned by the framers of the Indian Constitution.

This is a view expressed in a letter written by Inderjit Badhwar, Editor of the India Legal magazine, wherein he highlights the fact that the wisdom, sagacity, political perspicacity, scholarship and uncanny far-sightedness of Justices Ranjit Singh Sarkaria, B Sivaraman, Dr. S.R. Sen of the Sarkaria Commission review on Centre-State relations is not being adhered to.

Describing the Sarkaria Commission 1600-page review as a beacon to the Indian system of governance, Mr, Badhwar laments the fact that political parties are violating a cardinal principle that glues Indians together as citizens, and allows them to practice and pursue an enlightened brand of federalism.

Pointing to the baffling politico-legal-constitutional melodrama being played out in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. Badhwar says that what is deeply disturbing “is the habitual and flagrant disregard for legal, constitutional and administrative pronouncements by politicians and political parties.”

Referring specifically to the misuse of Article 356, which is to be applied in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, Mr. Badhwar, in his letter, says that the article by itself has no loopholes, and yet since India gained independence from Britain in 1947, it has been invoked 126 times to dismiss state governments.

While he agrees that that Article 356 may be invoked in emergency situations where there is a total breakdown of law and order, as a constitutional necessity, he is opposed to it being used as a political weapon.

“Alas, the party crying foul! the loudest-Congress-has historically been the worst violator starting with the Nehru government which dismissed the first democratically elected state Communist regime of EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala in 1959,” he says.

As blogger Nived Narayan summed it up on Quora: “It set a precedent. And that was the real problem. The Congress government dismissed state governments at will whenever they were formed by parties which it had problems with. Such belligerent show of strength by the Central government, and that too from Nehru himself, set a bad precedent which later set an example for the likes of Indira and Janata government of Morarji to trample upon the federal structure.”

“Trample upon the federal structure” is the operative phrase. It is playing with fire. It is tantamount to unravelling the delicately and sensitively woven warp and woof of India which came into being as a nation of citizens in 1947-1948 after more than 562 independent principalities joined the Indian Union (formerly British India).

Mr. Badhwar says that both the Sarkaria Commission and the Justice Venkatachaliah Commission have done yeoman service in recommending and highlighting key features of the Constitution of India that could be used to reiterate the very idea of Indian nationhood.

Both commissions, he says, have said that “Federalism” needs to be strengthened, even at the cost of more decentralization and greater regional autonomy, to prevent the disintegration of the nation through violence and anarchy.

The 1,600-page Sarkaria report with 247 recommendations spread over 19 chapters, describes “Federalism is more a functional arrangement for cooperative action, than a static institutional concept.”

Mr. Badhwar says that the Sarkaria Commission has said that Article 356 should be used “very sparingly, in extreme cases, as a measure of last resort, when all other alternatives fail to prevent or rectify a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state”.

The Justice Venkatachaliah Commission, in a follow-up exercise, reiterated that only the spirit of “co-operative federalism” can preserve the balance between the Union and the states and promote the good of the people and not an attitude of dominance or superiority.

Both the commissions, Mr. Badhwar says in his letter, remind the government that Article 356 is only to be used as an emergency provision, and added that these brilliant documents promote the idea of liberal governance and democratic values, which of late, have been gathering dust. (ANI)