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Cong abandons single largest party norm

Cong abandons single largest party norm

Author: Pioneer News Service
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 15, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/176360/Cong-abandons-single-largest-party-norm.html

Expects President to use 'discretion'

Uncertain about the shape of things to emerge after May 16 counting of votes for the Lok Sabha poll, the Congress wants the President not to necessarily go by the principle of inviting the largest party to form the Government and instead look into the "stability factor", something that will be on the discretion of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

On Thursday, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said told the PTI that the President should use the yardstick of stability and invite the side which will be able to provide a stable Government.

"We expect the President to go by the book. She will go by the Constitution," he said, on his party's expectation.

Asked whether the single largest party or alliance should be invited, Singh said, "single largest party...This is something which is the discretion of the President. What is her assessment? Who will be able to give a stable Government? Stability should be the yardstick."

Under Article 75(1) of the Constitution, the President appoints the Prime Minister. Though the functions assigned to the President is to be carried out with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, this one act is required to be carried out by the President in his/her discretion.

But this discretion is not unlimited. Noted constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said, "In the interest of preserving parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister must enjoy the confidence of the Lok Sabha. This forms the reasoning given in Article 75(3) providing for the Council of Ministers to be collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. For this reason, the discretion of the President is not unfettered."

To ascertain who commands the majority of the House, the established norm adopted by Presidents over the years is to choose the leader of the majority party. If the results establish a majority to a single party, irrespective of whichever alliance it may represent, the President invites the leader of that party to form the Government.

As measures to ascertain the majority support of the party, there are some means to which the President resorts. Kashyap said, "Where the President cannot decide a clear majority, Article 86(2) provides the President to send a message to the Lok Sabha to unanimously select the Prime Minister. But this has never been resorted in the past. Yet again it is open to the President to seek a march of strength or a letter of support signed by the members supporting the single largest party."

This has served as the deciding factor when the trend of coalition politics held sway at the Centre. An illustration of how the presidential wisdom was put to effect became visible in 1991. No party emerged with a clear-cut majority in the general elections conducted that year. Narsimha Rao, the then leader of the Congress was invited by the President to be the Prime Minister since he was the leader of the largest party. The party position in Lok Sabha at the time was that the Congress had 251 members in a House of 528 members. It was short by 14 members to have a majority in the House.

A similar situation was repeated in 1996 when the general elections gave no clear majority to any party in the Lok Sabha. The ruling Congress secured only 135 seats out of 520. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged the single largest party with 162 seats, while a Grand Alliance of the Left, Janata Dal and other regional parties cobbled up 178 seats. Remaining seats went to Independents and other smaller parties.

Faced with a dilemma, the President invited the leader of the single largest party, BJP, to form the Government. It was a different fact altogether that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not secure a vote of confidence as a result the Government had to resign after being in power for 13 days. It was only later that the President called the United Front alliance who got outside support from the Congress.

History made a repeat in 1998 when fresh election to the Lok Sabha brought back the BJP as the single largest party having 162 members as against 141 seats of the Congress. The BJP promised to form Government by conjuring support of several regional parties. Being the single largest party, the President invited Vajpayee to form the Government and this time the coalition successfully pulled a success in the confidence vote to remain in power.

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