Since 1950, the President’s Rule has been imposed on more than 100 occasions, that is, on an average twice a year. Further, on a number of occasions, the President’s Rule has been imposed in an arbitrary manner for political or personal reasons. Hence, Article 356 has become one of the most controversial and most criticised provision of the Constitution.
For the first time, the President’s Rule was imposed in Punjab in 1951. By now, all most all the states have been brought under the President’s Rule, once or twice or more.
When general elections were held to the Lok Sabha in 1977 after the internal emergency, the ruling Congress Party lost and the Janta Party came to power. The new government headed by Morarji Desai imposed President’s Rule in nine states (where the Congress Party was in power) on the ground that the assemblies in those states no longer represented the wishes of the electorate. When the Congress Party returned to power in 1980, it did the same in nine states on the same ground.
In 1992, President’s Rule was imposed in three BJP-ruled states (Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan) by the Congress Party on the ground that they were not implementing sincerely the ban imposed by the Centre on religious organisations. In a landmark judgement in Bommai case (1994), the Supreme Court upheld the validity of this proclamation on the ground that secularism is a ‘basic feature’ of the Constitution. But, the court did not uphold the validity of the imposition of the President’s Rule in Nagaland in 1988, Karnataka in 1989 and Meghalaya in 1991.
Dr B R Ambedkar, while replying to the critics of this provision in the Constituent Assembly, hoped that the drastic power conferred by Article 356 would remain a ‘dead-letter’ and would be used only as a measure of last resort. He observed:
“The intervention of the Centre must be deemed to be barred, because that would be an invasion on the sovereign authority of the province (state). That is a fundamental proposition which we must accept by reason of the fact that we have a Federal Constitution. That being so, if the Centre is to interfere in the administration of provincial affairs, it must be under some obligation which the Constitution imposes upon the Centre. The proper thing we ought to expect is that such Articles will never be called into operation and that they would remain a dead-letter. If at all they are brought into operation, I hope the President who is endowed with this power will take proper precautions before actually suspending the administration of the province.”
However, the subsequent events show that what was hoped to be a ‘dead- letter’ of the Constitution has turned to be a ‘deadly-weapon’ against a number of state governments and legislative assemblies. In this context, HV Kamath, a member of the Constituent Assembly commented a decade ago: ‘Dr Ambedkar is dead and the Articles are very much alive’.
Scope of Judicial Review
The 38th Amendment Act of 1975 made the satisfaction of the President in invoking Article 356 final and conclusive which could not be challenged in any court on any ground. But, this provision was subsequently deleted by the 44th Amendment Act of 1978 implying that the satisfaction of the President is not beyond judicial review.
In Bommai case (1994), the following propositions have been laid down by the Supreme Court on imposition of President’s Rule in a state under Article 356: