In setting aside the Modi government’s March 27 decision to bring Uttarakhand under President’s rule, the Uttarakhand High Court has rolled back a blatant misuse of Article 356. In restoring the Harish Rawat government and directing a floor test on April 29 in the Uttarakhand Assembly, the High Court has, in effect, enunciated a sound jurisprudential principle: the courts cannot become legal enforcer of political illegalities. The imposition of President’s rule just a day before the Assembly was set to have a floor test was a brazen misapplication of Article 356. No one need be surprised if the Modi government chooses to challenge the High Court judgment in the apex court. The Modi government is too enamored of its political calculations to take a well-deserved rebuff lying down.
Besides quashing the presidential proclamation, Chief Justice KM Joseph has done the polity another good turn. He insisted on reiterating a fundamentally sound principle: the President has no absolute power. Chief Justice Joseph made it abundantly clear that any exercise of presidential authority under Article 356 is subject to judicial review. This was a principle well-settled in the Bommai case and it is inexplicable that the NDA government should have invented the argument of ‘political wisdom of the President’ to circumvent the Bommai case judgment.
The High Court should be complimented for seeing through the inherent jurisprudential mischief in the Centre’s argument. The President, in the constitutional scheme of things, has no ‘wisdom’ in such matters. All his ‘wisdom’ is circumscribed by the ‘aid and advice’ he receives from the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. The decision to use – or, rather misuse – Article 356 in Uttarakhand was a political decision of the Modi government. The Thursday afternoon judgment also pre-empted the possibility of the Modi government revoking President’s rule before the High Court could rule on the constitutionality of the March 27 proclamation. Only a few months ago the BJP had first abused Article 356 to dismiss a Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh, impose President’s rule, and, then used the interregnum to maneuver to install a new government before Parliament would get a chance to vote it down. This was nothing but constitutional chicanery. The Thursday verdict needs to be applauded as politically fair and constitutionally sound.