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A caveat is in order - The Statesman

Editorial ()
March 10, 1998

Title: A caveat is in order
Author: Editorial
Publication: The Statesman
Date: March 10, 1998

The country is slowly coming round to the view that a minority
government that no one is interested in upsetting may well be the
answer. The BJP will not have the numbers for an absolute
majority of the House but with outside support which will be
issue based and firm, to the satisfaction of the President, it
should be possible for Atal Behari Vajpayee to run the
government. The country is no stranger to this reality.
Narasimha Rao led a minority government and lasted the full term,
if one ignores the scandal of someone having bribed four
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha M Ps. All eyes are now on the President;
he is expected to invite the leader of the largest party and the
largest group to form the government.

It is necessary to enter a caveat here. In recent times both at
the Centre and in the states it has become the habit to require
the Prime Minister or the chief minister, as the case may be, to
obtain a vote of confidence. The practice seems to have come into
vogue after the Supreme Court judgment in the Bommai case but
there is no constitutional mandate for it nor can it be justified
on any other principle of constitutional government. The
President having made his choice, to require a floor test in a
specific period of time makes no sense. The proper position is
that a prime minister having been sworn in, it is open to those
so inclined to move a vote of no-confidence at a time of their
choosing to remove him and his government. The only limitation is
that there cannot be more than one such vote of no-confidence in
any one session of Parliament.

To fix a time limit for a vote of confidence needlessly impinges
on the prerogative of Parliament. Test the proposition. Assuming
a vote of confidence is required in say fifteen days, the first
question is why fifteen days, why not a month why not a week or
three days as Romesh Bhandari, the Governor of U P, decided in
the full exercise of his powers of intellect. There is no answer.
Secondly, assuming such a vote is obtained it can only be a
majority of those present and voting, not a majority of the whole
house. Assume further that a week or so later the Government come
forward with a proposal that is unacceptable to those who, by
exercising their right to abstain, have allowed the Government to
survive. What is the sanctity of the vote of confidence obtained
on the President's orders. In other words the continuance of the
Government does not depend on the President, it depends on the
will of Parliament and subject to the limitation noted earlier it
can be exercised at any time.

Nothing will be lost and a great deal gained if the President
will, with the utmost respect, choose the prime minister in the
exercise of his prerogative and then leave it to the House to
decide how long the Government will last. In short a command
performance of a vote of confidence has no constitutional
backing, is infructuous, and cannot help to ensure stability of
which so much is being heard. If Atal Behari Vajpayee is the
choice, let him form his Government and let those so minded
attempt to bring him down at a time and manner of their choosing
on the floor of the Lok Sabha. Trying to legislate for every
contingency is bad law.

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