'Under President's rule, elections will be more neutral'

Print edition : September 12, 1998
Interview with M.S. Gill.

In an interview to V. Venkatesan, M.S. Gill defends his proposal.

On his suggestion in respect of the imposition of President's rule in States ahead of elections: In our experience, virtually every party has come to us and complained that the governments in power in the States did not allow fair elections... We received complaints from almost every State. Even the civil administration came in for criticism... In one State the Opposition parties demanded that we change the Collectors...

This idea that an election is held under the incumbent elected government in power at the end of its tenure presumes a British rule of behaviour and history and constitutional culture. Here, many incumbent Chief Ministers do not want to lose power... and misuse the state machinery. The Commission, of course, will try to ensure that they don't misuse their power. But since under the Constitution the entire administration is under the Cabinet of the State, there are limitations to the Commission's ability to do it.

I have thought up a possible solution to this problem. This is not my exclusive wisdom. I am only presenting the idea for a debate. If you, after consideration, don't need it, please don't have it. One thing is certain: you should have neutral elections in the States. Today, Indian elections are contentious - and, in places, almost violent. I also have a solution to the problem of ensuring the neutrality of the State administration during Lok Sabha elections, but today I will not confuse the argument.

Article 356, as it stands, only provides for the dismissal of a State Government if there is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. But if all the parties agree to amend the Article - and luckily today some parties are in power in one State and out of power in another and everybody now needs a level playing-field - a clause could be inserted to the effect that the moment the Election Commission announces elections to a State Assembly, the Assembly's term is deemed to be over and automatically the Cabinet, the Chief Minister and the Government cease to exist. No reflection on them: it applies to every Government. Nobody needs to feel unhappy. The State Government ceases and the Governor takes over. The Governor, under the close watch of the Commission, will get a much better election.

On whether he believes Governors can be impartial: Senior constitutional appointments, including those of Supreme Court Judges, the Election Commission, and if you wish, the Governors, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General, should be done by collegiate selection, and not left to the government in power in New Delhi. Under the court's directions, this procedure is being followed with regard to the Central Vigilance Commissioner, and fairly junior appointments in the police. Once you do that, you will have better Governors. It is our experience that under President's rule we are in effective control of an election. All Governors have been regularly checking with us on every little thing, whether to clear a file, whether to go on a tour, to do something or not. We have quietly given advice and they have gone by it. Therefore, it is our clear perception. I don't first of all accuse any Governor of being partial. It is not my role. Governor's rule will be far better and neutral than any obviously political government in effective control, anxious to come back.

On why he urged the four Chief Ministers to quit: I think it has not been understood why I dramatised this constitutional issue and argument by pointing to the four Chief Ministers. It is an important issue, and I did want it to be focussed on the people's minds for consideration and serious discussion. Out of the four Chief Ministers, two belong to the BJP and two to the Congress. So no one is going to lose. But I can see now that they are certainly not likely to do it. I don't worry about it, good luck to them.

On whether the Commission has come across any instance of a government becoming a beneficiary by virtue of being in power when elections are held: I cannot accuse a particular government or party (of having become such a beneficiary). But I can exclude no political party, regional or national, of trying to use the resources to the extent they think they can.

On how the Commission proposes to tackle the problem of ensuring the neutrality of State administrations during Lok Sabha elections: I have a solution, but I will not reveal it now. Obviously, I cannot ask a State government which has completed just two and a half years to quit to ensure fair Lok Sabha elections.

On the reaction of the political parties to his proposal: As it happens, among the three States and Delhi, which are going to the polls in November, two are headed by the BJP and the two by Congress. I will look forward to both the parties showing complete confidence in the neutrality of the Chief Minister of the opposing party.

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