To an innocent bystander or untrained mind, it may look like the Manipur BJP leaders, including the chief minister himself, is completely in the dark whether Article 355 of the Indian Constitution is invoked in the state of Manipur or not. However, it is ‘plausible deniability’ at work here and that is exactly why in the first meet with the press the security advisor Kuldiep Singh had denied the invocation of Article 355 in the state.
The question why a security advisor was appointed to take over the law and order responsibilities remained unanswered. Article 355 of the Indian Constitution is titled, “Duty of the Union to protect States against external aggression and internal disturbance” and it reads, “It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
It was clear as day and nothing ambiguous about it. The ‘Union’ meaning Government of India is to take over the responsibilities with regard to ‘external aggression’ and ‘internal disturbance’ so as to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, meaning that the rule of law and order is established.
The next Article 356 deals with invoking President’s Rule in a state in case of breakdown of Constitutional machineries. As soon as the security advisor arrived in Imphal, he took over his responsibilities on matters of security besides law and order. A senior IPS officer ADGP Ashutosh Sinha was ordered to take over the command of all state forces and designated overall operational commander to control and bring normalcy in the state. The order further stated that Ashutosh Sinha will work under the guidance and supervision of security advisor Kuldiep Singh. Then comes Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, in Imphal and makes a big announcement that the unified command will be chaired by the security advisor.
Yet, in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) categorically stated that it has no information on any notification issued by the Centre under Article 355 of the Constitution between January 2023 and June 13, 2023. The RTI reply had contradicted the news-reports of Article 355 being invoked in Manipur. It is said, never in Indian political history has Article 355 been imposed on a state without Article 356 which brings a state formally under President’s Rule.
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Of course, the Centre’s move was seen as a response to the Kuki community’s demand for the removal of the chief minister from controlling the law and order situation in the state, accusing him of acting partisan and in favour of his community. The then DGP Paotinmang Doungel, himself a Kuki IPS officer, had on May 5 claimed that the Centre had invoked Article 355 to address the state’s security concerns. On the other hand, the Home Ministry officially denies it.
The state Chief Minister, N Biren Singh, refuses to give a categorical answer to it while the BJP organisational leadership here also is talking in bewilderment as if it is not aware of Article 355 being invoked in the state. And, when they are pushed into a corner they come out with the truth, yet, ambiguously. In other circumstances, they act as if they are still in play. But, when the pellets and bullets rained down on protestors or when public anger turned on them, they wanted to use Article 355 as a shield to ward off the danger. So much for political expediency, if it comes at all.