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The Defeat of a BJP Minister, Appointed Without an Election, Revives Constituent Assembly Debates

Surendra Pal Singh TT's loss in the Karanpur seat of Rajasthan has brought to mind crucial questions posed during the Indian Constituent Assembly 76 years ago: Shouldn't MLAs and MPs, upon their inclusion in the cabinet, promptly engage with the public once more?
Surendra Pal Singh T. T. Photo: X/@BJP4Rajasthan.

Jaipur: The defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Surendra Pal Singh T.T. in the Karanpur seat of Rajasthan has invoked memories of crucial questions posed in the Indian Constituent Assembly 76 years ago.

He resigned as the minister immediately after losing the election.

On December 30, 1948, within the halls of the Constituent Assembly of India, deliberations unfolded around Articles 60, 61 and 62 of the draft Constitution.

Professor K.T. Shah, a representative of the Constituent Assembly from Bihar with roots in Gujarat, posed numerous questions that compelled Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar to exert considerable effort in countering his arguments.

Shah’s query revolved around whether MLAs and MPs should seek a fresh election upon their induction into the cabinet. This would challenge the appointment process by the prime minister or chief minister.

The argument revolved around the possibility that the MP or MLA selected by the prime minister or chief minister of the ruling party as a suitable minister may not align with the criteria deemed eligible by the voters.

Shah contended that once appointed as a minister, an elected member of the Lok Sabha or the Legislative Assembly should, at the very least, obtain a vote of confidence within the respective House.

This implies that following the establishment of the government, once the formalities of securing a vote of confidence in the House are fulfilled, each minister should also seek a vote of trust from that same House.

Shah moved an amendment:

 (2A) On every change in the Council of Ministers, and particularly on every change of the holder of Prime-Ministership, the Prime Minister (alternatively, the President) shall present the new minister as the case may be to the People’s House of Parliament, and shall ask for a vote of confidence from that body in the particular minister newly appointed. In the event of an adverse vote in the case of a particular minister, the minister concerned shall forthwith cease to hold office and a new minister appointed. If a vote of confidence in the Council of Ministers collectively is refused, the Council as a whole shall resign and a new Ministry formed in its place.”

– December 30, 1948. The Constituent Assembly of India, Debates.

This debate, which lasted extensively, was held by H.V. Kamat, Tajammul Hussain, Mahavir Tyagi, Rajbahadur, Qazi Syed Karimuddin. Various scholars, including Santhanam, Lakshminarayan Sahu, and Mohammad Tahir, also participated in the debate, stressing on improving the Constitution of India and implementing new ethical standards regarding the appointments of ministers.

Responding to Shah’s questions, Ambedkar explained:

“It is true that in the early history of the British Cabinet, every person who, notwithstanding the fact that he was a Member of Parliament, if he was appointed a minister, was required to resign his seat in Parliament and to seek re-election because it was felt that a person, if he is appointed a Minister, will likely to be under the influence of the Crown and do things in a manner not justified by public interest. The British themselves have now given up that system; by a statute they abrogated that rule and no person or Member of Parliament who is appointed a Minister is now required to seek re-election. That provision, therefore, is quite unnecessary.” 

– December 30, 1948. The Constituent Assembly of India, Debates.

Ambedkar termed Shah’s amendments as completely “unnecessary” and said that they are “very impractical”.

However, Ambedkar definitely said:

“As I explained a little while ago, if the Prime Minister does happen to appoint a minister who is not worthy of the post, it would be perfectly possible for the Legislature to table a motion of no-confidence either in that particular minister or in the whole ministry and thereby get rid of the Prime Minister or of the minister or of the minister if the Prime Minister is not prepared to dismiss him on the call of the legislature.

– December 30, 1948. The Constituent Assembly of India, Debates.

When a lot of concerns were raised about the distrust of the voters towards the ministers, Ambedkar finally said:

Is it not desirable, is it not sufficient that we should trust the Prime Minister, the legislature and the public at large watching the actions of the ministers and the actions of the legislature to see that no such infamous thing is done by either of them? I think this is a case which may eminently be left to the good sense of the Prime Minister and to the good sense of the legislature with the general public holding a watching brief upon them.

– December 30, 1948. The Constituent Assembly of India, Debates.

But when Ambedkar said, “I therefore, say that these amendments are unnecessary,” it appeared as though he had never anticipated an episode akin to that of MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh unfolding. The position from which he had sought to safeguard the dignity of MPs and ministers seemed to have turned a blind eye to such occurrences.

Also read: Lessons for Today in Ambedkar’s Last Address to the Constituent Assembly

Nevertheless, the public has asserted its decisive power, emphasising that the authority lies with the people rather than in the presumptuous decision to appoint individuals like Surendra Pal Singh T.T. as ministers even before their election.

And it would be really interesting to think that a new mandate can be taken from the public through the re-election of the ministers made in the government (be it the central government or the state governments), as constitutional scholars like Shah had advised that despite being made a minister, ultimately the public should decide whether he is really worthy of being made a minister or else the public may give even more shocking decisions.

Who was professor K.T. Shah?

Shah was not only an expert in economics, he was also a renowned jurist. He was a student of London School of Economics. He was considered so talented that he received membership of Gray’s Inn. It was Shah who challenged Rajendra Prasad in the election for the post of President. He was originally a Gujarati and was a good playwright in the Gujarati language. He was elected member of the Indian Constituent Assembly from Bihar. His contribution in the making of the country’s constitution is huge.

Shah had debated a lot in the Constituent Assembly itself to keep the word ‘secular’ in the constitution. He struggled a lot for the important role of the judiciary in the Constitution of India. Shah had twice submitted amendments to add the words secular, federal and socialist in Article 1 of the constitution.

What was the case of Sri Karanpur and Surendra Pal Singh?

An extraordinary political incident took place during the process of elections to the Rajasthan assembly. Voting was postponed when Congress candidate Gurmeet Singh Kunnar, from the Karanpur assembly constituency, passed away.

Meanwhile, in the assembly elections that were held for 199 seats out of 200, the BJP secured a majority by winning 115 seats.

On the Karanpur seat, Congress declared Gurmeet Singh Kunnar’s son Rupinder Singh Kunnar as its fresh candidate. However, chief minister Bhajanlal Sharma appointed Surendra Pal Singh as a minister even before the bypolls were held, aiming to ensure his victory.

As the voting day came closer in Sri Karanpur and the first cabinet expansion of the Bhajan Lal government in Rajasthan started, people were shocked when Surendra Pal Singh was being sworn in to be included in the state cabinet even before being elected.

This was very surprising because perhaps it has never happened in the electoral history of India that a candidate has been made a minister even before the voting. But, despite making him a minister, the people of the area defeated him and the historic manoeuvre of the ruling BJP did not work.

Tribhuvan is a senior political journalist. 

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