Will the President call a mid-term poll?
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in New Delhi
With just a day left for Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda to prove
his majority in Parliament, all eyes are set on President Shankar
Dayal Sharma. For it is he who will decide what happens next if the
United Front government loses the vote of confidence on Friday.
Last May, the President invited Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal
Bihari Vajpayee to form the government as it was the single largest
party in Parliament. However, Vajpayee resigned in 13 days as he could not muster
the support of 272 MPs, the simple majority figure in the Lok Sabha.
Congress leader P V Narasimha Rao, who headed
the second largest party in the Lok Sabha, then
sent a letter to the President, informing him that the Congress
would support the UF government. H D Deve Gowda was thus
sworn in as prime minister on June 1, 1996.
The situation now is no different from what it was last year.
No party has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.
And though Congress president Sitaram Kesri told the
President on March 30 that the Congress staked a
claim to form the government, ten days later it is unclear how he will
prove his majority in the Lok Sabha.
Even if the United Front loses a vote of confidence, it is unlikely
that the coalition will send a letter to
the President, agreeing to support a Congress-led government.
Says S Jaipal Reddy, the United Front spokesman, ''There is no question
of sending a letter to the President from our side stating that
we will support a Congress-led government. We are ready for a
snap poll rather than a Congress government at the Centre.''
In that case, will the President ask the BJP, the single largest party
in the Lok Sabha, to form a government once again? Or can
he dissolve the Lok Sabha if the prime minister advises him to do
so if the UF government loses the vote of confidence?
Fali Nariman, the distinguished lawyer and president of the Bar
Association of India, told Rediff On The NeT, "The
President has to act and does act on the advice tendered to
him by the council of ministers with the prime minister as its
head. I feel there is no occasion for the President
to act in his personal capacity.''
Historically, the President has dissolved the Lok Sabha
on the prime minister's advice. In 1979, then President
Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy dissolved the Lok Sabha on
Charan Singh's advice. The then prime minister passed
up the opportunity to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha.
However, according to Soli Sorabjee, the former solicitor general
and celebrated constitutional lawyer,
''The framers of the Constitution clearly intended to repose faith
in the President. As head of State, he has the freedom
to decide whether or not to dissolve the Lok Sabha.''
When Rajiv Gandhi withdrew support to the four-month-old Chandra
Shekhar government in 1991, then prime minister Chandra Shekhar did not ask
the President for time to prove his majority in Parliament. Instead, he asked
the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha. Which then President
did after careful consideration.
This time though, the President has another problem
to contend with. The Presidential election.
The President's term ends on July 21 and the Presidential
election has to be completed before that date.
In case the President dissolves the Lok Sabha this week, then a mid-term
election has to be called before July. An electoral college
has to be in place before the Presidential election is
scheduled. The President is elected by members of the Lok Sabha,
Rajya Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
Says Justice Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of
the Delhi high court, ''The country may find itself in a
constitutional crisis if Deve
Gowda's government is voted out. There is no obligation on
the President that he has to call some other party to try to form
an alternative government."