Discussion on Article 356
In the Indian Constitution, Article 356 has been used and misused the most number of times. The Article relates to the dismissal of a State Government by the Centre if it feels that there is total anarchy in the State. However, more often than not, it has been misused when the State Government and the Central Government have belonged to different parties. In this regard, two very important questions arise:
a) Should Article 356 be deleted?
b) If it is retained, should it be in its original form or should amendments be made?
After a lot of debate, the framers of the Constitution decided that there should be an Article enabling the imposition of President's rule if there was a breakdown of constitutional machinery or where the Government was not carrying out its functions in accordance with the Constitution. In fact, B.R. Ambedkar had said in the Constituent Assembly that it should be used as a last resort and hoped that it would be a dead letter. Article 356 has been used over 100 times, mostly for purposes other than what it was intended for. The powers have often been used by obliging Governors to achieve the ulterior motives of the ruling party at the Centre, which seeks to obtain power in that state, striking at the root of the federal system.
As the root cause lies in the conduct of Governors, who sometimes behave like stooges of the Central Government, the remedy lies in amending the provisions of the Constitution relating to their appointment. Instead of vesting powers for appointing Governors with the Union Government, they should be appointed by an independent committee comprising the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. If there really is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery of the State, should the people of that State remain helpless? Any government can flout norms and there may be a virtual dictatorship in the State. It is, therefore, the binding duty of the Centre in such instances to ensure that constitutional normalcy is restored in the State. The demand that Article 356 be deleted, therefore, finds no validity.
The next question is if Article 356 is to be retained, should there be amendments to it? It is true that the expressions "Carrying in accordance with the provisions of the constitution" and "Failure in Constitutional machinery" do not permit a precise definition. At the same time, it is difficult to envisage all the circumstances that lead to the failure of the Constitutional machinery or the ways adopted by the State machinery to circumvent provisions of the Constitution. It is, therefore, better to leave the expressions as they are to decide in each case whether there is a failure of the Constitutional machinery or whether the State is unable to carry on in accordance with the Constitutional machinery.
In 1959, Kerala's first-ever Left Government was dismissed invoking Article 356, a questionable promulgation attributed to the then Congress President, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Ever since, it has ushered new controversies and strains in Centre-State relationship. Yet a clear pattern can be seen emerging out of its usage over the years, leading to some of the following premises:
(i) It has been freely used to topple politically inconvenient State Governments, and not used even once to dismiss any government that belongs to the same party as the one ruling at the Centre.
(ii) It has been used with fanfare to dismiss State Governments formed by opposition parties following General Elections.
(iii) It has been decisively used to stem excessive violence, terrorist or social, or to end prolonged disturbance.
The State Governments can only oppose the imposition of Article 356 on the first two premises, but they have no locus standi to oppose its imposition in the third.
In spite of occasional grumbling against Article 356, no political party has called for its repeal. There are proposals to circumscribe it, to stave off any wrongful imposition, but that in no way should dilute or take away its uniqueness. The greatest safeguard against unjustified imposition of President's rule is a watchful and impartial President. This proved true when Article 356 was sought to be imposed in Bihar, but could not be done due to the prudent decision of the President K.R. Narayanan.