New Delhi: In a sharp setback for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday effectively restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and termed governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s dismissal former chief minister Nabam Tuki unconstitutional.

A five-judge Constitution bench, led by justice J.S. Khehar of the Supreme Court on Wednesday held the actions of governor Rajkhowa—advancing the date of the assembly session and deciding the order of business—as illegal.

“It is now up to the governor to invite Tuki to form the government but that will be incumbent upon Tuki proving his majority," said a senior advocate close to the developments. He did not wish to be indentified.

The Supreme Court was ruling on an appeal against a Gauhati high court verdict on the discretionary powers of governor Rajkhowa to summon or advance a sitting of the Arunachal Pradesh assembly.

The apex court held that the governor’s decision were violative of the Constitution. In the process, the Supreme Court has defined the contours of the discretionary powers of a governor.

This is the second such setback for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA after the apex court two months ago ordered a fresh floor test in Uttarakhand legislative assembly, which restored the Harish Rawat-led Congress government.

Former state assembly speaker Nabam Rebia had moved the apex court after the Itanagar bench of the high court decided to uphold the actions of the governor.

“All steps taken by the Arunachal Pradesh assembly in light of the governor’s decision are unsustainable. In view of that, the status quo as of 15 December is restored," the court said.

The governor, on 9 December, had advanced the date of the assembly session by a month to 16 December and had listed the removal of the speaker for the day.

A five-judge Constitution bench comprising justices J.S. Khehar, Dipak Misra, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and N.V. Ramana has heard arguments on the contours of the power and discretion of the governor under the Constitution for over a month.

On 18 February, the top court vacated its status quo order, clearing the decks for the formation of a new government in Arunachal Pradesh. In doing so, the court upheld a 7 January interim order of the Gauhati high court, which suspended the disqualification of the 14 legislators.

On 17 February, the apex court ordered that no step to revoke President’s Rule could be taken by the centre.

Arunachal Pradesh was placed under President’s Rule on 26 January. The crisis in the Nabam Tuki-led Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh erupted after 21 legislators rebelled against the chief minister.

Originally, the Congress had 47 members in the 60-member assembly. It is now left with 26 legislators.

The leader of the Congress dissidents’ faction, Kalikho Pul, was sworn in as chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh on 19 February, with the support of 20 rebel legislators of the Congress and 11 of the BJP.

“We don’t comment on the verdict of Supreme Court. But the Congress party must answer why internal problems are happening in the party; first it happened in Arunachal Pradesh and then in Uttarakhand. Congress needs to introspect why the party is lacking authority to control its dissidents," said Sidharth Nath Singh, BJP national secretary and spokesperson.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi issued a statement, saying this judgement “firmly establishes the democratic values enshrined in our constitution (and) will deter the union government from any further misuse of power."

“Thank you Supreme Court for explaining to the Prime Minister what democracy is. #ArunachalPradesh," Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi tweeted soon after the judgment was pronounced.

“Supreme Court re-writes history. Democracy wins with a thumping majority, Modiji’s politics of defections & conspiracy fails miserably," Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted, adding “defections and manfactured disaffection" were the centrepoints of NDA’s north east political strategy.

The Congress party held a media interaction soon after the SC verdict, where former Union minister and senior leader Kapil Sibal pointed out that the apex court has served a warning to the governors acting against constitutional provisions.

The Congress party has also challenged the centre’s imposition of President’s Rule in the state and subsequent formation of a new government. The court is unlikely to hear arguments on that issue now as the previous government is restored.

“It is a lesson for the BJP leadership not to play political games to destabilise elected governments. After Uttarakhand, this is the second instance when BJP tried to benefit from the internal problems of the Congress. There is no doubt that Congress is facing internal problems in several states and its central leadership is also under pressure, but BJP should not try to scuttle elected governments," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.

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