The question “Account for the legal and political factors responsible for the reduced frequency of using Article 356 by the Union Governments since mid 1990s." was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 2. Let us look at the model answer to this question.
Answer: The Constitution-makers intended for Article 356, ‘President’s Rule’ to be used only as an ‘emergency provision’. However, since independence, it has been used over 100 times. Perfectly legitimate state governments have sometimes been removed to either make them fall in line or to give the Union government’s own party a chance at obtaining power in the state.
Legal factors which have led to reduced frequency of using Article 356:
- R Bommai Case, 1994: It laid down specific instances when President’s Rule can be imposed and when it cannot.
- Federalism as a part of Basic Structure: The Supreme Court has time and again asserted that “principles of democracy and federalism are essential features” and form part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
- Institutional mechanisms: Centre constituted Inter-state council on the recommendation of Sarkaria Commission, to discuss matters on centre-state relations. This has also led to the reduced use of Article 356 to some extent.
- Rameshwar Prasad vs UOI case: The Supreme Court struck down the President’s Proclamation dissolving the state Assembly of Bihar in 2005 as unconstitutional, and though it did not restore the Assembly, it defined the contours of the Governor’s powers to dissolve the Assembly.
Political factors which have led to reduced frequency of using Article 356
- Presence of coalition governments at centre: There occured a fundamental change in the nature of Union governments since mid-1990s. The government was deeply fragmented among several regional parties, which influenced the decision-making process at the centre.
- Rise of regional parties: The national parties were always on the lookout for new regional allies, and hence were wary of using Article 356 against their governments.
- Rajya Sabha Composition: A more diverse and representative Rajya Sabha over the years has made it difficult for a single party to gain the required majority to approve the imposition of President's Rule.
- Active role of President: In 1997, President K.R. Narayanan returned to the cabinet its recommendation to impose direct central rule in Uttar Pradesh.
- Integrity of Governors: Former governor of Tamil Nadu, Surjit Singh Barnala, in 1990-91, refused to send a report to the Centre recommending imposition of President’s Rule in the State under Article 356(1) of the Constitution, as dictated by the Centre.
Thus, the reduced frequency of using Article 356 by Union Governments since the mid-1990s can be attributed to a complex interplay of legal and political factors. These factors reflect a growing commitment to federalism, constitutional principles, and democratic norms in India's evolving political landscape.