Pliable governors

The appointment of state governors has always been controversial with the ruling parties at the Centre picking and choosing their favourites for the constitutional post. Even against this background the UPA government has gone to a new low and created a very undesirable precedent with the appointment of former CBI director Ashwani Kumar as the new governor of Nagaland in place of Nikhil Kumar, who has been shifted to Kerala.

This is the first-ever appointment of a former CBI director as a governor and it has only thickened the political shadow on the country’s premier investigative agency.

The agency is used by parties in power for their political ends and so there has been persistent demand to make it independent of the government in power. There was also the demand that a CBI director should not be considered for any post-retirement favour.  But the  signal that has gone out with the appointment of Ashwani Kumar is that the CBI chief would be rewarded for help rendered to the government.

Ashwani Kumar’s appointment as CBI director in 2008 was also controversial as he was not the seniormost eligible candidate for the post. It was believed that he was favoured because he was close to the Congress party and its top leadership. The latest appointment confirms that and makes Ashwani Kumar’s political association clearer. A  governor should be above the political fray as he or she is the President’s representative in the state. But the office has been progressively devalued with appointment of rejected or retired politicians looking for a sinecure, former bureaucrats in the good books of the government or those from the police, intelligence or other security agencies. Since they owe their positions to the government they function as the political arm of the ruling party at the Centre.

The  trend of appointing of former police and intelligence officers as governors – there are six of them now—is also questionable. They would not have been selected for their great grasp of constitutional matters which is required of governors. Fairness, impartiality and a sense of propriety are needed in the functioning of governors. But the only quality the government seems to want is compliance with its political needs in states. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had complaints about the state’s governor, Devanand Konwar. In the latest shuffle he has been shifted to Tripura. Was the Congress sending a political message to Nitish Kumar in view of the coming general elections?

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