The more things change the more they remain the same. A lexicon which resonates in the corridors of power when it come to Governors and their role in the Constitutional scheme of things. Governance, after all is one big nautanki which has rewritten the basic time-honouredrules of authority and turned democracy on its head.
Call him a Governor with a difference, who calls a spade a spade and grabs eyeballs Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan in an unprecedented move shared with media video clippings of him being heckled at a Kannur University event in 2019 along-with a officer in Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan office preventing police from discharging their functions yesterday. He also released letters to Pinarayi and his replies on the issue of universities functioning in the State.
Adding, “The State Government’s attention is focused on silencing the voice of those differing with it and even the Raj Bhavan has not been spared. It has tried to interfere by questioning appointments to my staff…. The pressure tactics are continuing even now but they will not work on me.” He also raked up political killings in Pinarayi’s home turf Kannur to target the Left Government.
However the issue is not Khan or what he said about Pinarayi. Before him Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar as West Bengal Governor had a running battle with Chief Minister MamataBannerjee as did Maharashtra’s Koshyari with erstwhile Thackeray’s MVA and Tamil Nadu’sRavi with Stalin’s DMK.
In fact for over six decades, the prism of time has distorted the Governor role whereby Governor-State Government ties have reached a nadir and become a source of intense conflict between Centre and States. 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.
Expectedly, it 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?
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.
To be fair to the BJP-led Government, it is only carrying forward a long established tradition of National Front VP Singh’s 1989, Gowda’s United Front and Congress UPA’s 2004-14 all have used, misused and debased the gubernatorial office to further their political agendas and got Governors to do at their bidding, ever ready to destablise the State, if desired by New Delhi.
Their tendency to centralise everything often turn Governors as just an instrument to impose Raisina Hill’s wishes. Most have no qualms of conscience in rubbishing it in personal or Party interest, overlooking the Constitution’s letter and spirit.
Instances are aplenty. Circa 2008: Meghalaya, Circa 2007: Karnataka, Circa 2005: Goa, Bihar and Jharkhand. The common denominator? Each Governor interpreting or should one say misinterpreting the rule book any which way he wants, drawing his own conclusions based more often than not on delusions as long as he and his benefactors at the Centre could rule the roost.
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.
He is a Constitutional sentinel and a vital link between Union and State. Being the holder of an independent Constitutional office, the Governor is not a subordinate or subservient agent of the Union Government. Mutual understanding and respect between Centre and State is an ideal situation that helps both the entities.
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 not only endorsed Supreme Court but also made two weighty recommendations. One, Governor should be appointed in consultation with 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”.
What next? Sadly, all lament the decline of the Governor office but continue to misuse and abuse it for personal and Party ends. None has given thought to its long-term repercussions. Myopia has replaced a broader vision, leading to a blinkered self-serving approach. Not only does it generate bad blood between Lilliputian politicians but in its wake denigrates the Constitution.
Certainly the office of the Governor desperately needs to be revamped and restored to its old glory as he has a distinct role in ensuring the country’s unity and integrity and the well-being of the people of his State. Time now to set up healthy and gracious conventions, lay down clear rules and a charter of directions.
Remember the State is a Constitutional entity. It is everlasting. For what matters are not men, but institutions. One can tit for an individual but not tat on the State! The Governor must not be reduced to being a who’s who to who? who? A glorified chaprasi or jee huzoor!