On Tuesday afternoon, based on a recommendation by the governor of Maharashtra, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, the Union government decided to recommend the imposition of President’s rule in the state. The President signed off on this later in the evening. The governor’s office said he was satisfied that a government in the state could not be carried on in accordance with the Constitution. This, then, entailed the use of Article 356, which brings the state under central rule.
The state’s political theatre has indeed been fluid. Close to three weeks after the assembly election results came out, and four days after the term of the last assembly expired, no government has been formed. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it did not have the numbers when it could not muster the support of the Shiv Sena. The Sena could not get letters of support from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress in the time allotted to it to stake claim. And it was not clear if the NCP, which had been asked by the governor to show if it had adequate support, would have the numbers either.
Yet, the governor’s report was politically unsound and legally questionable. To be sure, the governor has discretion, especially in a political context where no party or alliance has an outright majority, but this discretion has to be used wisely. His task is to exhaust all possibilities of government formation before recommending the use of Article 356. In Maharashtra, this was not the case. The possibilities of an alliance government were alive, and the political process should have been allowed to take its own course. There may have been delays, but negotiations among possible partners — the Sena, NCP, and Congress — were still in progress. While the governor gave 48 hours to the BJP, he gave 24 hours to the Sena, and, in effect, less than 16 hours to the NCP, to show the letters of support. A level playing field would have been more just. Indeed, both the Sena and the BCP did ask for more time — 48 hours. There may have eventually been an impasse, which would have necessitated President’s rule. But the process with which it has been done now is hasty, leading to questions about the governor’s impartiality. The BJP, at the Centre, should have waited too, for the current decision can be seen as a move to keep rivals out.