The more things change the more they remain the same. An adage which resonates in the corridors of power when it come to dispensing the rewards of office. Whereby handpicked trusted loyalists are appointed to key positions, some Ministers, few to Commissions and others as Governors who will do whatever their mai baaps sitting on India’s Raj gaddi want.
The latest in this rajnitik ring-a-ring-a-roses, the President appointed B.S Koshyari, Bandaru Dattatreya, Kalraj Mishra, Tamilisai Soundararajan and Arif Mohammed Khan as Governors to Maharashtra, Himachal, Rajasthan, Telangana and Kerala. There claim to fame? While four are senior staunch BJP leaders, Khan is an ex-Congress Minister who resigned from Rajiv Gandhi’s Government for overturning the Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano and supports the BJP’s criminalisation of triple talaq. The first four are being recognized for their faithfulness, the fifth underscores the Saffron Sangh’s criteria of a “good Muslim”.
Raising a moot point: Are Governors intended to be the Centre’s doormats? Or are they the keepers of the people’s faith as the Constitutional head of their respective States? Are ideologies to be the touchstones for Constitutional matters? Would this not weaken the country’s federal structure? Are there any rules to emphasize some semblance, coherence and uniformity in gubernatorial actions? A charter of directions and guidelines?
Sadly, in a milieu of you scratch my back and I yours, a gubernatorial post is no longer decided on whether a person is a man of stature known for his integrity and objectivity, instead it is the perfect lollypop for political castaways, parting gifts for subservient bureaucrats and convenient posts for inconvenient rivals, totaling over 60% today. His essential criteria: whether he can be a chamcha .Consequently, the Governor has become a convenient tool of the Centre specially in Opposition-ruled States where he runs the administration by proxy.
By playing the I-spy game—petty politricking, gross interference, open partisanship—at the Centre’s behest. Sending for files, summoning Ministers and bureaucrats. To hear, entice, provoke and register the voice of dissent against the State Government to their political patrons in Delhi. Bluntly, make life hell for the Chief Minister at every step.
Call it déjà vu but Modi NDA’s is no different from National Front VP Singh’s 1989, Vajpayee’s 1999 nor UPA’s 2004 who got Governors appointed by their predecessors to resign. Since 2014 all UPA appointed Governors were made to resign. Notwithstanding, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling which decreed a change of Government at the Centre was not a ground to remove Governors, even if they were out of sync with policies and political ideologies of the Party in power.
All seem to have forgotten that a Governor’s true function is not just to represent the Centre as Head of State, but serve his people and fight their battle with the Centre, not vice versa. He has to bear in mind the overall national interest, not partisan party interests and be in tune with his own people, not with the party in power at the Centre.
The Constitution empowers him to influence the decisions of an elected Government by giving him the right “to be consulted, to warn and encourage”. His role is overwhelmingly that of a “friend, philosopher and guide” to his Council of Ministers with unrivalled discretionary powers. A lot more than those of the President.
Pertinently, the Sarkaria Commission had not only endorsed the Supreme Court but also made two weighty recommendations. One, the Governor should be appointed in consultation with the State’s Chief Minister. Two, his five-year tenure should not be disturbed, except in rare circumstances for “extremely compelling reasons”. Basing it on the premise the Governor is a “Constitutional sentinel and vital link between the Union and State, not a subordinate or subservient agent of the Union Government”.
Tragically, the prism of time has distorted the Governor role whereby successive Central Governments have used, abused and debased this office by reducing Governors to the position of the Centre’s trumpet nee kathputli, ever ready to destablise the State, if desired by New Delhi. Most have no qualms of conscience in rubbishing it in personal or party interest, overlooking the Constitution’s letter and spirit.
Moreover, there is a revolving door between the bipartisan role of a Governor and active politics. Predictably, this has tossed out the ‘safety valve’ envisaged by the Constitution makers of who should be appointed Governors, manner of their appointment and their role. During Constituent Assembly debates leaders hoped that eminent individuals, preferably not those directly involved with politics should be appointed to this ‘exalted’ position.
Clearly, even as the institution continues to be sacrosanct and important, the quality of the incumbents has time and again lowered the institutional prestige. Worse, the gubernatorial office has been unabashedly politicized over the past three decades.
Alas, gone are the days when eminent people with integrity, merit and stature were appointed Governors. Indira Gandhi changed the rules of the game. Politicians close to her were rewarded with plum postings. She successfully used gubernatorial appointments as bait to get bureaucrats to do at her bidding. For the first time, even a former Chief Election Commissioner and retired intelligence and police officers came to occupy Raj Bhawans.
In fact, many of the appointments were so brazen that the Supreme Court was constrained to order in 1979: “The Governor’s office is not subordinate or subservient to the Government of India. He is not amenable to the directions of the Government of India nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his duties. This is an independent Constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the Government of India…”
Trust India’s self-serving polity to trash this to the dustbin of history. Be it the Congress, Janata Dal, United Front, NDA, UPA and NDA2 whereby the Governor largely functions as a lackey of the Centre, ever ready to destabilize the ship of the State.
All political parties lament the decline of the crucial institution of the Governor when out of office. However, they merrily exploit the office when in power, be it NF, UF, NDA, UPA etc. A classic case of the pot calling the kettle black! Big deal if it generates bad blood between Lilliputian politicians, denigrates the Constitution and undermines India’s unity and integrity.
The harsh truth is that the office of the Governor is in shambles and is no longer playing its key role as envisaged by the founding fathers. It has to be revamped and restored to its old glory as he/she has a distinct role in ensuring the country’s unity and the well-being of the people of his State.
Public office has a lot to do with perception. Thus, it is time to rise above politics, make certain amendments to streamline the position of Governor, improve the quality of incumbents, provide dignity to this august office and appoint neutral non-political Governors and men of eminence who could distance themselves from the eternal battle of Party politics.
As long as the Centre continues to play petty, partisan politics, India and its unity will be greatly hurt. The Prime Minister who postulates the Constitution must also be perceived as practicing what he solemnly preaches. The Governor must not be reduced to the level of a glorified doormat or a who’s who to who? who?