Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Nabam Tuki (right), the then chief minister who was eventually
ousted by dissidents with the help of the BJP but has now been reinstated by the Supreme Court, at
Indira Gandhi Park in Itanagar on February 20, 2015, the 29th Arunachal Statehood Day. Pic:UB Photos

R. Balaji, TT, New Delhi, July 13: The Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of Congress leader Nabam Tuki as Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, dealing a staggering blow to the Narendra Modi government a little over two months after it suffered a similar fate in Uttarakhand. 

Late tonight, Tuki assumed charge as chief minister from Arunachal Bhavan in New Delhi, adding a dramatic flourish to a roller-coaster battle whose arena will shift to Itanagar tomorrow.
The duel is by no means over. Tuki needs to show the support of enough MLAs and his rival – Congress dissident Kalikho Pul who became chief minister with BJP support – is insisting that he has the numbers in spite of the court order.
But the verdict of the Supreme Court has implications that go far beyond the borders of one state.
The court has set the record straight on the limits of the powers of governors and declared something that is often forgotten: the occupants of Raj Bhavans should remain aloof from the heat and dust of politics. (See Page 4)
The apex court said that governors were not entitled to convene, advance or postpone Assembly sessions without the “aid and advice” of the council of ministers headed by the chief minister as long as it enjoyed majority.
It held that under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, the disqualification of MLAs under the anti-defection law was the exclusive preserve of the Speaker: the governor had no power to deal with such matters.
The verdict came seven months after Congress rebels and BJP members had replaced Tuki with Congress dissident Kalikho Pul in an Assembly session whose validity had been questioned. Events in Arunachal had descended to such a farcical level that an “Assembly session” was held in a hotel.
Today, a five-judge constitution bench upheld Speaker Nabam Rebia’s disqualification of 14 of the Congress rebels under the anti-defection law on December 15, two days before the dissidents ousted Tuki in a House session advanced unilaterally by governor J.P. Rajkhowa.
Justices J.S. Khehar, Dipak Misra, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and N.V. Ramana also ruled unanimously that Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the Assembly session from January 14, 2016, to December 16 was unconstitutional.
Today’s verdict marks back-to-back blows from the apex court to the Narendra Modi dispensation, which has been accused of replicating the Congress strategy of toppling Opposition-led state governments.
In May, a court decision to allow a floor test in Uttarakhand while denying voting rights to nine disqualified Congress rebels had allowed deposed Congress chief minister Harish Rawat to return to office after a controversial imposition of President’s rule.
Also, last October, the court had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission, through which the government sought to have a larger say in the appointment of high court and Supreme Court judges.
Today’s 329-page judgment said: “The status quo ante as it prevailed on 15.12.2015 is ordered to be restored.”
On December 15, Speaker Rebia had disqualified the rebels. At a “session” conducted outside the House the next day, 21 rebel Congress MLAs, 11 BJP members and two Independents had “impeached” the Speaker. They ousted Tuki on December 17. The state was brought under President’s rule on January 26.
Pul, who became chief minister on February 20 after President’s rule was lifted, now has the option of moving a no-confidence motion against Tuki but with the court upholding the disqualification of 14 MLAs, it may be difficult for him to muster a majority.
Still, the best political option before Tuki seems to be to have the Assembly dissolved and call fresh elections.
The court noted that the anti-defection law allows a breakaway group to be recognised only if its members make up two-thirds or more of the legislature party they are defecting from.
It said that in Arunachal, the 21 Congress dissidents “did not constitute a legitimate and recognisable breakaway group” since their party had “47 MLAs in the prevailing 60-member legislative Assembly”.
The court said: “Only in a situation where the government in power, on the holding of such floor test, is seen to have lost the confidence of the majority, it would be open to the governor to exercise the powers vested with him under Article 174 at his own, and without any aid and advice.”
The bench noted that the governor had neither called for a floor test nor entertained any doubt about the confidence enjoyed by the chief minister (Tuki) and his council of ministers. Further, no confidence motion had been moved against the government.
“In the above situation, the governor just could not have summoned the House, vide his order dated 9.12.2015, in his own discretion, by preponing the 6th session of the Legislative Assembly from 14.1.2016 to 16.12.2015,” the court said.
“This for the simple reason that the governor neither had the jurisdiction nor the power to do so, without the aid and advice of the council of ministers with the chief minister as the head.”
Two of the five judges – Justices Misra and Lokur -wrote separate but concurring views.