In the shoes of the Governor

Recent experience shows that Governors in the country have been errant in upholding constitutional values.


Many Governors have also ostensibly acted in concert with the interests of their political appointees —PICTURE FOR REPRESENTATION

Governors, prior to India becoming a Republic, were the agents of the Governor-General in Council, committed to sustain the Imperial power. They could dismiss Ministers and acted in the interests of the Raj. We hoped that after 1950, Governors would be committed to the Constitution instead of governments in New Delhi. Our constitutional scheme mandates Governors to owe allegiance to the Constitution. Recent experience shows that Governors have been errant in upholding constitutional values. They are, instead, committed to the partisan political interests of their benefactors.

Ideally, Governors are the eyes and ears of the Union. They inform the Union both in writing and otherwise of the governance in States over which they have jurisdiction. In the event, decisions are taken contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, they are obligated to advise governments from time to time to act in accordance therewith. Yet, in the recent past, Governors are seen to represent the long arm of the Union, indulge in intrigue within the state and are catalysts in destabilising elected governments. We have witnessed situations where Governors help in manipulating legislators to install governments, through means fair or foul, as long as they can please their political masters.

This is not something new that has happened since 2014. Previous Governors also have ostensibly, though not as blatantly, acted in concert with the interests of their political appointees. The verdict in Bommai’s case encapsulated the brazen misuse of Article 356. The Supreme Court dealt with how in each state when exercising powers under Article 356, the then Union sought reports from Governors which were found to be wanting and thus held that imposition of President’s Rule in some states was illegal.

Over the years, recommendations of both the Sarkaria Commission and subsequently that of the Chief Justice MM Punchhi merely remained on paper. No political party is willing to give up attempts to destabilise opposition ruled states by using the office of the Governor. That Governors have allowed themselves to be used in this fashion and thereby compromised the dignity of the high office they occupy, is a matter of concern. Both Justices Sarkaria and Punchhi have enunciated salutary guidelines to be followed by Governors for determining whether or not the incumbent government in the state has lost the confidence of the House. These guidelines have been discarded. Machinations of the Union, by using the office of the Governor, have been seen in full play for motives that are constitutionally suspect.

Both in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, Governors acted with intent to destabilise elected governments. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Governor at the instance of a break-away group from the Congress led government, acting in tandem with the legislative members of the BJP, went to the extent of advancing the Assembly session, which was slated to meet in January 2016. This was done to facilitate the fall of an elected government. The Governor went to the extent of determining the manner in which proceedings in the House would be conducted by setting the agenda of the House with respect to the ‘No Confidence Motion’ moved against the Speaker. The Supreme Court commented adversely on the actions of the Governor as he had stepped outside the realms of his powers. The ensuing fiasco saw the imposition of President’s Rule in the state. If Governors start compromising democratic values, motivated by partisan politics, democracy will be under threat. Similarly, the Governor of Uttarakhand recommended imposition of President’s Rule, fearing “possible pandemonium during the floor test”. Governors, though advised not to get involved in the thicket of politics, have been proactive in destabilising elected governments. In Uttarakhand, the Governor acted on the unverified version of rebel MLAs of the Congress party along with the BJP and on a suo motu report to the Centre, acted unconstitutionally to satisfy the political aspirations of the BJP.

Most recently, in Nagaland, the Governor did not even wait for a Court verdict and hastily installed a new government, knowing that the matter was to be heard by the Division Bench of the High Court. Contrast this with what happened in Tamil Nadu. The Governor has chosen to procrastinate in requesting the Chief Minister to prove that he still enjoys the confidence of the House. The prevailing circumstances clearly point to the contrary. The Governor by his wanton inaction gave time to the Speaker of the House to disqualify 18 members of the Legislative Assembly belonging to the break-away group of the AIADMK to ensure sustenance of the present government, which in the absence of disqualification of 18 MLAs, would be in minority.

These events reflect the amoral nature of incumbent Governors, willing to subvert the Constitution, besmirching the reputation of the high office they hold.

Perhaps the time has come for Courts to intervene. Where it is found that a particular Governor has acted in a blatantly partisan manner, inconsistent with established constitutional principles and norms, his instant removal through court diktat will serve as a deterrent. The message will be clear. Unless their decisions reflect their commitment to the Constitution, their tenure will be in jeopardy.

Courtesy: (This Article is published on DNA dated 25/09/17)

The author is a Member of the Rajya Sabha, and a senior Indian National Congress leader. Views expressed are personal.

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