The health issue of Tamil Nadu chief minister J.Jayalaithaa has raised a constitutional issue. Whether an elected state government can be dismissed invoking the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution? Whether an interim arrangement is a must when a chief minister of a state is hospitalized? Another related question, unrelated to the constitutional issue, is that whether Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be invoked in that state at this juncture as demanded by BJP member of Parliament Dr Subramanian Swamy who has even alleged that the dread Islamic State (IS) has penetrated into Tamil Nadu, too, and hence deploying army is essential now with all special powers under AFSPA.
First the constitutional issue. Under no provision of the Constitution, including Article 356, it is stipulated that if a chief minister of a state is hospitalized, the state should be brought under the central administration. Secondly, alternate arrangements, if any, should, too, be done by the incumbent chief minister and no person, including the governor, could effect any ‘alternate’ or ‘interim’ arrangement.
“It would be unconstitutional if a state government is brought under the Centre invoking the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution, simply because the elected chief minister is hospitalized,” says Dr. Prof. N.R.Mahdava Menon who was a member of the centre-state relationship commission.
Since the Rajamannar commission on the matter, various commissions including the Sarkaria commission have been formed and elaborately debated the subject and prescribed many recommendations. The basic aspect of all those recommendations is that India is a federal structure. Constitutional provisions have to be for safeguarding this structure.
But what Swamy says is that when a chief minister is in a state of coma and the affairs of the state cannot be carried on as per the provisions of the Constitution, then Article 356 could be invoked.
Prof. Menon counters this saying unless a chief minister is declared “insane” and cannot function, no such provision could be invoked. Likewise, he says “supposing a chief minister is going abroad, he or she might make an interim arrangement for such time till then the chief minister returns. Even alternate or interim arrangement has to be done by the elected chief minister only”.
But things are moving fast in the political chess of the state. Governor Vidya Sagar Rao has already held a round of discussions with the chief secretary and other senior officials of the state and a round of meeting with senior ministers of the Jayalalithaa cabinet has sparked off speculations that the governor might effect an ‘alternate’ arrangement till such time Jayalalithaa recovers from her current medical problems or if the will of the Providence is otherwise. A veiled power struggle has already begun in her party, too, with her confidant and live-in partner Sasikala remote controlling the powers that be and groups opposed to her having secret parleys.
The social media is already rife with stories of Jaya being “brain dead” and the inevitable final declaration is only delayed by the hospital authority. On its part, the hospital, too, stopped its medical bulletins excepting one that Jayalalithaa was responding to treatment and is improving. A PIL demanding to make public her health condition has also been dismissed by the Madras High Court. So what remains is rumor and stories doing the rounds in social media.
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