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Meghalaya clamped under President's Rule
The Union Cabinet has decided to impose President’s Rule in Meghalaya citing ‘Constitutional breakdown’, as senior NCP leader Purno Sangma termed it as ‘unconstitutional and unprecedented’. 18 years ago, a similar situation was witnessed in the state

AT THIS moment, nothing is predictable in Meghalaya. Both NCP camp and Congress are in the line of fire. The five suspended legislators have appealed before the High Court. The 60-member house is divided with 28 on the NCP led Meghalaya Progressive Alliance (MPA) camp, including the speaker and Congress led Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) with 27.

One-year-old Donkupar Roy led government was all set to celebrate its first anniversary on March 19. However, their hopes were shattered as President's Rule was imposed just a day ahead. Last year, MPA had toppled the 10-day old Congress led Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) to form the government.

The decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on March 18. The decision was taken as the Centre had received a report from Governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary about breakdown of the Constitutional machinery in the state and recommended President's Rule.

The political turmoil began as the speaker suspended five MLAs, who withdrew support to the government, under the Anti-Defection Law, ignoring the governor's directive that he maintains status quo on the voting rights of members and cast his vote when there was a tie in the 60-member House during division.

The decision has immediately come under fire from the ruling MPA government with former Lok Sabha speaker and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Purno A Sangma threatening to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

“The decision to impose President' rule is unprecedented and unconstitutional. After the MPA government won the trust vote on the floor of the house, there was no constitutional crisis and hence the decision is very sad,” Sangma told.

“We shall challenge the decision in the Supreme Court. It is nothing but a murder of democracy by the Congress,” Chief Minister Donkupar Roy said.

On the event of trust vote, four of the five legislators, who were suspended by the Speaker and barred from attending the house were present and cast their votes. The Speaker announced that their votes were invalid, as they had been suspended.

Immediately after Lanong announced the result of the confidence vote, the opposition Congress members created a din shouting that he was 'biased' and had 'violated' the Constitution.

The MPA narrowly won the trust vote at the floor of the house with 28 legislators favouring them, including the speaker. However, Congress managed to have support of 27 in the 60-member house, with five legislators right been suspended.

Five legislators were not allowed to vote after the speaker placed them under interim suspension for withdrawing support to the MPA. Four legislators have moved court against the speaker's ruling.

The five-former ministers Advisor Pariong and Paul Lyngdoh, deputy speaker Sanbor Shullai of NCP and two independent MLAs - Ismail Marak and Limison Sangma were barred from entering the house until further orders by the speaker in a ruling.

But four of the legislators, barring Pariong, defied the speaker's ruling and entered the house as the Assembly met to decide the floor test.

There was pandemonium soon after the four legislators, particularly Paul Lyngdoh, challenged the speaker's ruling to suspend them. “The move to suspend is simply unconstitutional and we should be allowed to vote,” Lyngdoh said.

The house was adjourned for some time, after which the speaker ordered the vote to be taken up. But the Congress is agitated with the speaker's decision and the party led by former Chief Minister and opposition leader DD Lapang trooped to the Raj Bhavan to meet Governor Ranjit Shekar Mooshahary and has pressed for imposition of President's Rule.

“The role of the speaker was nothing but unconstitutional and so we sought dismissal of the government and asked him to impose President's rule for the time being,” Lapang told.

After the March 2008 Assembly elections, Lapang was sworn-in as Chief Minister of a Congress-led coalition government. But he resigned 10 days later ahead of a scheduled trust vote, having failed to muster majority support.

Political instability is the hallmark in Meghalaya - the state has seen six different governments with varied combinations of political parties, resulting in four Chief Ministers in a span of five years between 1998 and 2003.

There have been just two occasions since Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972, when a Chief Minister has been able to complete a full five-year term.

History repeats in Meghalaya after 18 years

Call it an irony but history repeated in Meghalaya as the Centre imposed President's Rule, 18 years after a similar situation was witnessed in the state. It was on October 11, 1991, when the Centre had imposed President's Rule in Meghalaya in the wake an apparently similar political crisis after the then Speaker PR Kyndiah had suspended five MLAs, mostly independents, on grounds of defection. Chief Minister Donkupar Roy was also one of the disqualified independent MLAs

Late BB Lyngdoh was the Chief Minister then (from 26-3-90 to 10-10-91), heading a coalition of three regional parties regional parties under the banner of Meghalaya United Parliamentary Party.

Kyndiah had suspended the five MLAs who pulled out from the coalition, reducing the government to a minority. Interestingly, the Congress was in the Opposition in the state and at power at the Centre, as it is today.

While PR was imposed from October 11, 1991 to February 5, 1992, the Supreme Court had later in December 1991 - squashed the Speaker's order to disqualify the five MLAs. The situation is almost similar today, when five MLAs stand suspended by Speaker on ground of Anti-Defection and the ruling MPA reduced to minority.

Ironically, DD Lapang became the next Chief Minister after the President's Rule then heading a coalition of the Congress, two regional parties and independents.

PR unfortunate but no other way: Lapang

Terming the imposition of President's Rule in the state as 'unfortunate'. Opposition leader DD Lapang said the Centre had no other option in the wake of the 'constitutional crisis'. “We never wanted it (PR). But the Government of India can never be a silent spectator seeing the constitutional crisis,” Lapang said, squarely blaming the NCP-led Meghalaya Progressive Alliance for the situation.

He said the MPA refused to accept that it was in minority and the alliance resorted to all 'unconstitutional' and 'illegal' means to grab power. “The Speaker faulted the law and the procedure of the business of the house. His rush to suspend the five MLAs shows his intent to support the MPA. The Speaker is supposed to act impartially,” Lapang said.

Congress spokesman Mukul Sangma said the PR was 'imminent' in the wake of the 'political crisis'. “The MPA had no regards to the provisions of the constitution and the rules and procedures of the house,” he said.

Sangma said now the Congress under the leadership of Lapang will explore all possibilities to put up a stable government for the “sake of the people of state.”

National friends are foes in Meghalaya

The national political friends ie the Congress and the NCP are political rivals in Meghalaya. However, the volatile political scene had made the senior NCP leader Purno Sangma to say on record that “politics changes everyday," hinting a possible NCP-Congress alliance in Meghalaya.

Sangma said this as the MPA was reduced to minority during the political crisis. "For the sake of stability and development, I am ready for any arrangement," said Sangma during a press conference.

The veteran leader, who was instrumental in toppling the Congress-led 10-day-old government in March last year and formed the MPA, hinted that he was not averse to the idea of a coalition government comprising the Congress, NCP and the United Democratic Party (UDP).

The NCP and the UDP were the major constituents of the MPA government with Chief Minister Donkupar Roy belonging to the UDP. "If independent MLAs can hold the state to a ransom, it does give us some food for thought," Sangma had maintained.

Governor's letter created controversy

Speaker's legal advice from Advocate General over Governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary's directive to him has created a new controversy, as the opposition leader DD Lapang said, “The advocate general is subordinate to the Governor and not empowered to scrutinise his powers.”

Lapang has lodged protest with Mooshahary, seeking appropriate steps to correct the 'constitutional infraction'.

"The Advocate General is appointed and removed by doctrine of pleasure by the Governor under the Constitution. Therefore, he is inferior to the office of the Governor and not competent or empowered to scrutinise the Governor's powers," Lapang told Mooshahary.

Mooshahary sent the directives to Lanong underling the latter's constitutional duties, twice-- one on March 13 and another on March 15. Mooshahary wanted Lanong to ensure video recording of the House proceedings during the trust vote, maintaining status quo in regard to rights of speech and vote of all members until the vote of confidence is disposed off and to send ballot papers signed by each member to him on completion of the proceedings of the vote.

Sangma says Governor's action unprecedented

Purno Sangma has termed Governor Mooshahary's directive to Speaker Bindo M Lanong as wrong and unprecedented. Sangma said, “Governor cannot interfere in the functions of the Legislature.”

He said that Governor has misunderstood Article 125 (2) of the Constitution. “As per constitution, the Governor cannot interfere in the powers and functions of the Legislature since the Speaker is the supreme authority.”

Pointing that neither the executive nor the judiciary can interfere with the sovereignty of the Legislature, Sangma said, “The action of the Governor is unheard of an unprecedented, as it has never happened in the 60 years of Indian parliamentary system.”

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