New Delhi: In a blow to the Centre, the Supreme Court on Wednesday restored ousted Congress Chief Minister Nabam Tuki in Arunachal Pradesh, elating the opposition, which hailed the verdict as a victory of democracy.
In a unanimous verdict, a Constitution bench of Justices J.S. Khehar, Dipak Misra, Madan B. Lokur, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and N.V. Ramana directed the restoration of the status quo ante as it existed on December 15, 2015, effectively bringing Tuki back as Chief Minister.
The apex court quashed Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa's decision to advance the state assembly session from January 2016 to December 2015, which set off developments leading to Tuki's ouster.
A visibly pleased Tuki described the Supreme Court judgment as a "historic verdict" and said the ruling would help protect "healthy democracy" in the country. "This is a historic and remarkable judgment."
"According to the judgment, our government has been restored," Tuki said. "I'll go to the state and talk to all the 47 Congress MLAs. We will call a meeting."
It was the second such ruling by the Supreme Court since May when it similarly restored the ousted government of Chief Minister and Congress leader Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "This is a big lesson for the BJP-led government. Democracy was under threat in both Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. The court has restored democracy in both the states. It is a victory for the nation and democracy."
A trenchant Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi thanked the Supreme Court for "explaining to the Prime Minister what democracy is".
"I salute the Supreme Court for upholding consititional values," Congress leader Kapil Sibal told the media. He called for the Governor's resignation and said he should be sacked if he does not quit.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been locked in bitter turf battles with the Centre, described the Supreme Court judgment as a "tight slap on (the) dictatorial Modi government".
"Hope Modiji would learn and now stop interfering in democratically elected governments," the Aam Aadmi Party leader tweeted.
His colleague Ashutosh called the ruling a "defeat of dictatorship and victory of democracy" and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "learn to respect people's mandate".
The CPI-M urged the Modi government to "stop its growing authoritarian tendency of invoking central rule in states" ruled by non-BJP parties.
"Following the Uttarakhand experience, this judgment poses an irrevocable question of political morality and accountability of this BJP-led central government," the Communist Party of India-Marxist said.
"The CPI-M wants the central government to heed this verdict and stop its growing authoritarian tendency of invoking central rule in states that have governments of opposition parties," it said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party put up a brave front, saying the ruling was not a setback to it.
"This is not a setback for the BJP. The crisis (in Arunachal) was due to the internal differences within the Congress in the state," BJP's Srikant Sharma said.
"A group within the Congress fell out with the party leadership. The BJP has nothing to do with (what happened)."
The Constitution bench also quashed the direction of Governor Rajkhowa on the manner and the order in which the advanced session of the state assembly conducted its business.
Rajkhowa had asked the assembly to take up a resolution seeking the removal of Nebam Rebia as the Speaker as the first item and also directed the Speaker not to tinker with the composition of the assembly despite his powers under the anti-defection law.
The bench set aside "all the steps and decisions taken in pursuant to the Governor's directions", and held them as unsustainable.
Justice Lokur held that Deputy Speaker Nabam Rabia could not have reversed the decision of the Speaker disqualifying 14 rebel Congress legislators who had made common cause with the BJP to topple Tuki.