Progression of events
The Congress retained power by backing 36-year-old Pema Khandu as Chief Minister after it became evident that former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki would fail to command a majority.
The credit must primarily go to the Supreme Court for reinstating the Tuki regime purely on grounds of constitutional propriety, despite serious doubts about whether he commanded a majority.
The numbers in the legislature tell an interesting tale. Out of the 47 MLAs with the Congress, 14 were disqualified by the Speaker in December, while two were told that their resignations had been accepted. The game-plan was to give the impression that the rebels had 31 MLAs, a clear majority.
When Kalikho Pul, the rebel faction head, was sworn in as Chief Minister in February, he claimed the support of 29 Congress MLAs. (Orders disqualifying 14 MLAs had already been stayed.) He declared that his 30-strong group had ‘merged’ with another party. The strategy was to claim that two-thirds of the Congress Legislature Party had merged with another party, the only situation in which an act of defection is permitted under the law.
After Mr. Tuki’s regime was reinstated after the Supreme Court verdict, he stood no chance of surviving a floor test. This impending embarrassment appears to have goaded the Congress to shake off months of lethargy. It salvaged the situation by recognising the dissidents’ grievances, offering the leadership to a more acceptable candidate and winning back the entire rebel faction.
Lessons for Political Parties
Earlier, the Congress leadership had ignored the deep divisions within the legislature party and the extent of dissatisfaction within its own ranks, which resulted in Mr. Tuki no longer enjoying the confidence of the House.
Using this situation, the Governor intervened by arrogating to himself the power to advance a duly convened Assembly session and seeking to set the agenda for it. The BJP responded to the unfolding crisis with cynical opportunism by backing a rebel faction in the Congress and playing along with, if not encouraging, overreach by the Raj Bhavan.
Limits on Governor role
Now that the Supreme Court has reemphasised the limits of the Governor’s role, the political class needs to show that it has learnt the right lessons, a significant one being that parties should not seek to use individual ambitions for political ends. There is a stronger case than ever before for greater care in the appointment of Governors and the manner of their functioning. Guidance is available in abundance — the reports of the Sarkaria and Punchhi Commissions, for instance. A better sense of propriety is required to heed it.