Need to lay down new rules

Public office has a lot to do with perception. Wherein, your actions do the talking. Specially when it comes to the high Constitutional office of the Governor. Alas, yesterday in an unprecedented and unimaginable act Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi walked out of the Assembly after Chief Minister Stalin asked Assembly Speaker to take on record only the speech prepared by the State Government and remove portions added by the Governor

The fracas had its genesis when the Governor began, skipping portions of the Government-prepared customary address and adding his own with  ruling DMK MLAs raising slogans against him for his remarks suggesting rechristening Tamil Nadu as ‘Tamizhagam‘ at the controversial Kasi Tamil Sangamam, recently. “Don’t impose BJP, RSS, ideology,” they shouted.

In fact, bad blood between the DMK Government and Governor has been simmering for over a year as the Governor has not yet given his assent to the Bill banning online gambling and the Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill resulting in the Government curtailing Governor’s powers relating to education. Also the Government has demanded his removal twice. Thereby, bringing to the fore the fragile fault lines between two Constitutional entities.

Expectedly, this nadir has once again raised questions about a Governor’s role, qualifications and his Constitutional obligations and duties. Arguably, are Governors the Centre’s doormats? Or are they keepers of people’s faith as Constitutional heads of States? Are there any rules to underscore some semblance, coherence and uniformity in gubernatorial actions? A charter of directions and guidelines?  Has the time come to reinvent his role in the Constitutional scheme of things?

True, one can argue what’s new about in today’s milieu whereby governance is one big nautanki which has rewritten the basic time-honoured rules of authority and turned democracy on its head. Bend them, break them, who cares!

The confrontation between Governor and Chief Minister is not just in Tamil Nadu. In September there was a standoff between Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Mohammad Khan for seeking resignation of 9 Vice-Chancellors citing illegal appointments. Earlier non-BJP Governments ruled States Rajasthan, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, too have seen a ding-dong battle between both, affecting their functioning.

Vice President Dhankhar as West Bengal Governor would summon the Chief Secretary and Director General Police on a regular basis. Both Rajasthan and West Bengal have passed laws against gubernatorial interference in education. In Rajasthan, the Governor has been facing allegations of appointing Vice-Chancellors with an RSS-BJP ideology in 7 of 8 universities, 6 of whom are from outside Rajasthan.

The stand-offs are repeated in Delhi between LG Saxena and Chief Minister Kejriwal, Purohit vs Bhagwant Mann in Punjab, Tamilisai Soundararajan and Chandrashekar Rao in Telengana, Anusuiya Uikey vs Baghel in Chhatisgarh and erstwhile Koshyari-Thackeray conflict in Maharashtra, further soiling Centre-State relations.

With the emergence of regional Parties in States, the ruling Party at the Centre is wary. Multi-polar electoral fights have complicated matters as Governments are formed with wafer-thin majorities, leading to political instability. The Governor is often used in such circumstances as a lever, facilitator and at worst, a proxy of the Centre’s nefarious designs to install its own Government, at any cost thus bringing the post into severe disrepute.

Sadly our leaders have collectively quietly buried Constituent Assembly debates which crafted a neutral and sanguine role for a Governor who was supposed to be the Constitutional watchdog. Said Ambedkar, “The Governor has no functions which he can discharge by himself at all….he is bound to accept the advice of the Ministry.”

However, politics overshadowed the gubernatorial post. The first row was in 1952 in Madras.  Governor Sri Prakasa’s was accused of acting inappropriately when he invited C Rajagopalachari to form the Congress Government despite not fighting polls and elected as MLA. After that, manipulations and machinations took place regularly.

Undoubtedly, the Governor has got multiple discretionary powers but his unrestricted power to forming the Government is the most important and controversial one. After the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, Ministerial advice was made binding on the President, but not on the Governor which has led to unseating of democratically-elected Governments..

As things stand today, the Governor is a political appointee and due to real politik demands his allegiance to the Party at the Centre is over-arching. The post is seen as a 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.

The Opposition accuses Governors of being biased and the Centre’s acolytes. But it’s like the pot calling the kettle black.  Congress-appointed Dharma Vira’s dismissed West Bengal’s first non-Congress Government, Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist Romesh Bhandari’s catastrophic handling of UP resulting in BJP’s Kalyan Singh-led Government and its recall in a week. Congress UPA’s 2004-14 have used, misused and debased the gubernatorial office to further their political agendas and got Governors to do at their bidding, destablise the State, if desired by New Delhi.

All seem to have forgotten that a Governor’s true function is not just to represent the Centre as Head of State, serve his people and fight their battle with the Centre and , 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.

Questionably, can India afford to allow persons holding Constitutional offices to accept political “rewards” for doing at its bidding? No. Ultimately, principles emerge from good practices not bad ones. Good principles recognise Constitutionalism and democracy. Time we restore the office of the Governor to its old glory. This calls for fairness, uprightness and adherence to Constitutional values and conventions.

Clearly, as long as the Centre keeps using the Governor as a political tool and as long as persons of rectitude and moral strength don’t occupy the post, Machiavellian machinations will continue to unfold. Our leaders need to rise above politics and appoint neutral non-political Governors not neta-turned rajyapal-turned neta.

A Governor must not be reduced to being a who’s who to who? who? A glorified chaprasi. It is now imperative that Prime Minister Modi who postulates the Constitution also practices what he solemnly preaches. Remember, what matters are not men but institutions. One can tit for an individual but not tat on the State!  —– INFA


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Poonam I Kaushish

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