Jayalalithaa’s illness brings to fore the issue of rudderless governments, order of succession

Written by | October 10, 2016 | 0

The prolonged hospitalisation of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minster Jayalalithaa has brought to fore once again the question of rudderless states, the question that has neither been addressed by the Indian constitution nor by the Supreme Court even though the answer has never brooked any delay.

She is reportedly under life support system in Chennai’s Apollo hospital which routinely gives a laconic bulletin about her fast recovery. And to make matters worse, there are credible reports of extra constitution persons like ex chief secretary issuing orders from the chief minister’s bedside. One wonders how the one under life support system can be consulted. Naturally, someone had to file public interest litigation (PIL) before the Madras High Court.

File he did but the Court threw it out contemptuously whereas it deserved to be heard in all earnestness if only to bring the issue centrestage. In fact the Madras High Court ought to have commended the matter to the Supreme Court with a prayer that it be considered by a constitution bench.

It is amazing that our constitution makers who took elaborate pains in framing it thought nothing of this seminal issue though in all fairness they cannot be accused of sweeping it under the carpet when the founding fathers of the US constitution squarely addressed the issue.

Under the US Presidential Succession Act, 1947, Jayalalithaa-like situation has been envisaged and answers. Should the US President die in harness or take ill or is otherwise unfit to carry out the humongous responsibilities of his office, the Vice President takes over and in his absence, speaker of the House of Representative and so on.

To be sure, the US has adopted a presidential form of democracy unlike India’s Parliamentary but that hardly is a handicap for us in not addressing the issue of temporary vacuum in the office of chief minister or prime minister.

The Indian company law is only a shade better than the Indian Constitution in this regard. It says the Board of Directors of a company can appoint an alternate director when a director of a company is absent from India for a period of 3 months or more.

In other words it too fails miserably in addressing the issue of line of succession. To be sure, it contains provisions for disqualification and removal of directors. For example a person of unsound mind cannot be appointed a director and should he subsequent to his appointment become imbecile, he must vacate the office forthwith.

But this is neither here nor there. Imbecility is not an issue as much as dereliction of duty willy-nilly on health and other grounds is. But then listed companies are constantly under the watch of vigilant shareholders and in any case Boardrooms abhor vacuum so much so that vacancies are bound to be filled up sooner than later.

Politics however is less tolerant and indulgent of those in power, with opposition relishing the prospect of sniping at the alleged delinquent as is happening in Tamil Nadu where the opposition DMK is darkly hinting at the CM already being brain dead.

Filed in: National

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