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BIHAR 2005

President Kalam signs Proclamation in Moscow to dissolve Bihar Assembly

Tuesday 24 May 2005

Special Correspondent

Dissolution will need approval of Parliament; Government cites `horse-trading’

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V. Sudershan
NDA UPSET: Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar puts across the Opposition NDA’s anger over the dissolution move at a press conference in New Delhi on Monday. To his left are George Fernandes and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who alleged ``murder of democracy.’’

NEW DELHI: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam signed a Proclamation to dissolve the Bihar Legislative Assembly on the advice of the Union Cabinet late on Sunday night. The Union Cabinet decided on dissolution after considering the report of the Bihar Governor, Buta Singh.

Although the Bihar Assembly was already under suspended animation, the Proclamation of dissolution will require approval by both Houses of Parliament and remains open to legal challenge. This is the constitutional position following the Supreme Court’s 1994 judgment in the Bommai case.

The Government received the approval from the President, away in Moscow on an official visit, in the early hours of Monday after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to him, explaining the reasons for the Cabinet decision. However, it is learnt that before the Cabinet formally made the request to the President, he was informally sounded out on the probable request. President Kalam, in turn, consulted his legal advisors, based in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, before he communicated to Dr. Singh that he would give his consent to the Cabinet’s recommendation.

Before the Prime Minister took the decision, almost all the United Progressive Alliance partners and supporters were consulted. Dr. Singh spoke to the DMK president, M. Karunanidhi, and the CPI(M) leaders, Prakash Karat and Harkishan Singh Surjeet. Further, all the senior Congress Ministers - Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil, P. Chidambaram, and Hansraj Bhardwaj - were taken into confidence before the Cabinet formally met. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was also consulted but she is understood to have expressed the view that the Cabinet was the competent body to take a decision.

Explaining the rationale for the dissolution, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil cited the Governor’s report. "Since the situation was worsening in the State, the Union Cabinet accepted the recommendations of the Bihar Governor and recommended [the] dissolution of the Assembly to the President," he said.

Talking to reporters, Mr. Patil said the Governor had sent two reports to the Centre over the past few days. While the first report had made a mention of "horse-trading" of MLAs, the report on Sunday recommended the dissolution of the Assembly, which had been kept under suspended animation since no party or alliance could cobble together a majority to form an elected government. "It is now for the Election Commission to hold fresh Assembly elections in Bihar," Mr. Patil said.

The Governor’s report referred to "unconstitutional and illegal methods being taken by political parties to win over MLAs." The Centre had similar information, which was corroborated by some political leaders from the State.

Mr. Patil said the Centre was aware of the efforts being made to fly some MLAs from Jamshedpur to other places. "To prevent the situation from worsening and getting further polluted, the Cabinet decided to dissolve the House." Once the dissolution takes effect, the Election Commission has to decide when the polls should be held. "The Commission’s jurisdiction is absolute. The Government has no say in it and whatever they decide has to be followed," he said.

Asked if the UPA Government had acted under pressure from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and about the NDA’s criticism that the dissolution move was a "murder of democracy," Mr. Patil observed: "Somebody has to say something. We don’t have to go by what others say. We have to go by our understanding and as to what is correct."

Mr. Buta Singh dismissed the charge that he had acted under pressure and defended his recommendation for dissolution of the Assembly. His explanation was that it was to prevent "horse-trading" in the name of government formation in Bihar. It was his "biggest fear" that MLAs were being bought and made to sign papers under duress. "My recommendation was to save democracy and prevent [the] law and order situation from going out of hand," he told reporters. As Governor, he would never have permitted the "illegal, undemocratic and unconstitutional" actions.

The Cabinet was told that each of the Lok Jan Shakti Party MLAs, who had reportedly crossed over to the National Democratic Alliance, was paid huge cash incentives. The NDA denounced the dissolution. Its leadership hinted at a legal challenge to the Proclamation.

The Congress, the CPI(M), and the CPI argued that there was no alternative. The two main antagonists - Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad - endorsed the dissolution, although for different reasons.

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