By Devender Singh Aswal
The prolonged bloody ethnic violence in Manipur, bringing in its wake horrendously shameful atrocities on women, continues to send shock waves across the country. So much so, a bench headed by Chief Justice, DY Chandrachud directed the Union and the State Government to take immediate action. The situation in Manipur is yet to be discussed in either Houses of Parliament as the Government and the Opposition are at loggerheads over the rule under which the discussions should take place. Till then, the opposition continues to stall the proceedings of Parliament. Despite the wrath and deep sense of anguish expressed by the Prime Minister, peace continues to elude Manipur. While Parliament is embroiled over the form of discussion, the European Parliament, the British House of Commons and many nations have expressed deep concern over the blood curdling incidents and the raging violence in Manipur. There are also reports that a certain community is being targeted in Mizoram threatening them to flee to Manipur.
The federal structure of the Indian nation runs on the double engine, yet the federal engine is empowered to check, guide and overhaul the state engine if it does not work smoothly or fails to work. Manipur has a popular government and, incidentally, a double engine government. There is widespread outrage and discontent against the Manipur Government for having miserably failed to control unprecedented ethnic violence and to maintain peace and tranquility across the state. Not only the opposition but even the public spirited citizens and some MLAs of Manipur have been demanding central intervention. Ordinarily, central intervention is viewed with suspicion, especially the imposition of President’s rule under Article 356 when a popular government is sacked or the Assembly is kept in suspended animation. There are instances galore of misuse of Article 356 since Independence. In most of the cases, defection or fear of defection, or political instability, are viewed as breakdown of constitutional machinery and President’s rule imposed. Unfortunately, even after large scale violence and complete and prolonged breakdown of law and order, the constitutional provisions have not been evoked in Manipur. There are clear and distinct provisions in the Constitution which cast responsibility, both, on the Union and the State Governments to run their affairs according to the Constitution. The executive power of the Union and the States is coextensive with the legislative powers which are demarcated exhaustively in the Seventh Schedule read with Article 246. Law and Order is a State subject but the fields relating to law and order and crime and punishment fall in the Concurrent List on which the Parliament and the Assembly can make laws and, in case of conflict, unless approved otherwise by the President, the law made by the Parliament shall prevail. Also, the laws made by Parliament for dealing with emergency- external aggression, armed rebellion or financial emergency shall prevail. Moreover, there is single citizenship in India and the matter falls in the domain of the Union. If the life and liberty of citizens of any part of the country are in jeopardy and the State Government fails to protect them, as it has miserably in Manipur, the Union Government is endowed with adequate and firm powers by the Constitution to intervene and to uphold the life and liberty of citizens.
It would be instructive to have a look at the connected enabling articles – 365, 355, 356, 256 and 257 of the Constitution. According to Article 365, where any State has failed to comply with, or to give effect to, any directions given in exercise of the executive power of the Union under any of the provisions of the Constitution, it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Articles 256 and 257 confer power on the Government of India to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear necessary for the purpose. The Constitution also enjoins that the executive power of ‘every State shall be so exercised as not to impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive power of the Union’. Therefore, directions are issued or can be issued by the Union to a State on specific matters in accordance with the scheme of demarcation of powers which heavily tilt towards the Union in order to foster national unity, integrity and to deal with potential fissiparous forces. Dr Ambedkar, allaying the fear of Pt HN Kunzru, clarified in the Constituent Assembly that once the Constitution confers the power of issuing administrative directions to the States to act in a certain way, it is necessary that there must be a remedy to deal with any disobedience. Apparently, without Article 365, Articles 256 and 257 would have ‘no meaning, no sense or substance’. Of course, there must be valid exercise of power, and violation of such direction, if challenged, should stand judicial scrutiny. Article 356 deals with breakdown of constitutional machinery. In Bommai Vs Union of India, the apex court held that the proclamation under 356 is justiciable but upheld the presidential proclamation.
There can be other grounds for holding failure of constitutional machinery in a State. Article 355 says that ‘It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance’ and to ensure that the Government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The situation in Manipur warrants the intervention of the Union as, indubitably, the Union must have issued directions to the State to stem the mayhem. An iron curtain on free flow of information has only exacerbated the situation except the bits and pieces of incendiary incidents which occasionally pierce the curtain. Perhaps, in the absence of authentic information, the Union Government may find it too difficult to assess the situation accurately. Chief Ministers have been replaced on the basis of C&AG reports. If replacing or sacking a Chief Minister can assuage the people and restore peace and tranquility, it’s a measure that must be taken swiftly. Moreover, there would be least outcry as the nation demands it unequivocally.
(Devender Singh Aswal is a student of Pushkar Singh Kandari and ex-Additional Secretary,
Lok Sabha. He is also a member of Delhi Bar Council.)