The importance of being O Henry!

IFP Editorial: O Henry seems to have laid the entire blame of not holding bye-elections to his constituency in due time as mandated by the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 to the Election Commission of India Representation of Peoples Act 1951.


The Supreme Court had recently declined to entertain the plea filed by Okram Henry Singh seeking a direction to the Election Commission of India to hold bye-elections to the post of MLA of 15-Wangkhei Assembly Manipur and also extend the six month grace period of ministership without being a MLA. O Henry was elected as a Member of Legislative Assembly from the 15-Wangkhei Assembly Constituency on a Congress ticket, and his term was originally from March, 2017 to March, 2022. He switched camp in August last year after backstabbing his uncle and Congress Legislature Party leader O Ibobi Singh to support the BJP led government by abstaining the vote of confidence in the Manipur assembly. He resigned as MLA of Congress and joined BJP in August, 2020 as he was sworn in as a minister along with another turncoat O Lukhoi Singh. While O Lukhoi was elected as an MLA from BJP before expiry of the six-month term, O Henry’s election was held up due to a pending election petition in the High Court of Manipur. The Election Commission of India does not normally conduct bye-elections in constituencies, where election petitions are pending.

We simply do not understand why O Henry chose to go to the apex court for relief as the law has been clearly laid out that if a non-elected lawmaker is not able to get elected to the legislature within the grace period of six months, he shall cease to be a minister. In 2001 August 17, a Supreme Court bench comprising of the then Chief Justice A S Anand, Justice R C Lahoti and Justice K G Balakrishnan has ruled that if a non-MLA has served as minister for six months without getting elected to the assembly, he cannot be reappointed as minister during the same term of the house. In its first ever judgment on the validity of a non-elected lawmaker remaining a minister without getting elected to the house directly or indirectly, the court said such a practice “would be clearly derogatory to the constitutional scheme, improper, undemocratic and invalid”. The bench, thus, set aside Punjab Minister Tejpal Prakash Singh’s appointment because he had not been elected to either house within six months in 1996. The son of slain chief minister Beant Singh, Tej Prakash Singh was inducted into the cabinet under article 164 (1) which stipulates that any person who is not elected to the house can be made the prime minister, chief minister or a minister for six months during which he shall get elected to the house.

O Henry seems to have laid the entire blame of not holding bye-elections to his constituency in due time as mandated by the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 to the Election Commission of India Representation of Peoples Act 1951. O Henry’s petition had prayed for a direction to the Election Commission to hold bye-elections to the Wangkhei Assembly constituency in accordance with the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 and also pass appropriate directions that he shall not cease to be a minister as per Article 164 (4) of the Constitution in view of the situation arising out of the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. It could have been a landmark judgement had the apex court deliberated on the merits of his arguments. However, the Court neither avail him the relief he was asking nor did it reject his prayer, and instead posted the matter to a future date. After the holidays, the three-judge Bench of CJI Bobde, Justice Bopanna and Justice Rama Subramanian granted Henry the liberty to withdraw the plea and approach the High Court. Now, the question is did he exhaust all legal mechanisms before going to the apex court in time or did he go when only his ministership was hanging? More important question is who advised him legally on this effort. Had he pursued his case in time, there could have been a landmark judgment on the issue, favourable to him or not. That is the importance of being O Henry.

First Published:April 12, 2021, 11:51 p.m.

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