Governors' removal: NDA govt no different

Last Updated 21 June 2014, 18:13 IST

What has been done now in the case of governors has, I believe, weakened the federal structure of the country.I regard the doctrine, which has been propounded, or the rationale, which has been given, that they have an ideology which is different from ours and that will create problems as an outrageous assault on the concept of multi-party democracy enshrined in the Indian Constitution.”

That was not a Congress leader’s statement on the Modi government’s move to force some of the UPA-appointed governors to resign.

Rather, it was that of L K Advani as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha when he had initiated a discussion on the sacking of four NDA-appointed governors by the UPA on July 12, 2004.

The axed Governors were Vishnu Kant Shashtri (Uttar Pradesh), Babu Parmananda (Haryana), Kidar Nath Sahani (Goa) and Kailashpati Mishra (Gujarat).

Advani was upset that the then home minister Shivraj Patil had sacked these governors for their links with the BJP’s ideological parent, the RSS, on the ground that “they espoused different political ideology during the course of their active political career than the political ideology of the party in power.”

Cut to 2014, without appearing to be going for sacking of all UPA-appointed governors, some of them were “nudged” by Union home secretary Anil Goswami last week to put in their papers.

While governors of Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, B L Joshi and Shekhar Dutta, respectively, have quit, Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayan made it public that he would respond only if he gets a written order from an “appropriate decision-making authority.”

As Home Minister Rajnath Singh made it clear that the government wanted the Congress nominees to go by saying that “if I had been in their place, I would have stepped down”, it is clear that the NDA is doing exactly what it had opposed in 2004 when the UPA booted out governors appointed by the previous Vajpayee regime.

It also means that the BJP-led government is no different from the previous Congress-headed coalition though Modi’s stated stand ever since he took over was that he would take the Opposition along, and that he would be conciliatory towards it.

Moral high ground

In 2004, as statements by Advani and other senior BJP leaders showed, the BJP took a moral high ground arguing against the UPA’s stand of removing governors. Now, as the Congress protests vociferously, they stand accused of adopting double standards: when they are in opposition and in power.

  Also, the issue has been clearly politicised and revived the debate on the politicisation of the office of the governor.

But, as BJP leaders themselves know, things have changed since 2004. On May 7, 2010, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the ruling party cannot remove a governor merely because it has lost confidence in him or because he is out of sync with its policies and ideology.

There is the option of transferring an inconvenient governor, but to remove him, compelling reasons which can stand judicial scrutiny must be recorded.

Ironically, the apex court’s verdict came in response to a petition filed by late BJP MP B P Singhal against the Union of India, challenging the removal of four BJP appointees by the UPA in 2004.

Soon after he was sworn in as PM, Modi and other senior BJP leaders apparently decided that they would let Congress-appointed governors retire on completion of their term over next few months.

Those who had a longer term could be transferred -- rather than being given marching orders as that would go against the Supreme Court verdict of 2010.

When Congress-appointed E S L Narasimhan, who is governor of both Andhra Pradesh and the new state of Telangana, called on him, Modi entrusted him with a special role of overseeing the bifurcation process.

But the telephone call from the Union home secretary to the governors to ask them to resign shows a big change in the BJP’s stance.  Did Modi lead other BJP leaders in approving a strategy to get as many Congress appointees as possible  to vacate the Raj Bhavans?

Strangely, no senior BJP leader thought it fit to clarify on the issue. Today, even Advani is silent as he is buffeted by the circumstance. Some ministers have hinted at CBI investigations in the AgustaWestland chopper deal, which may see governors M K Narayanan (West Bengal) and Bharat Vir Singh Wanchoo (Goa) being questioned.
But the bigger question is whether the removal of governors is a well-thought out strategy of the BJP, and if so, why? One, there is no doubt there is a move to accommodate veteran leaders who could not be made ministers.

Secondly, the party is working for an early assembly election in UP and Bihar where the BJP did exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha polls. UP polls are due only in 2017 while elections will be held in Bihar next year.

The BJP leaders count on the respective Raj Bhavans to "respond" to evolving political situation, which could facilitate early election if their occupants are not Congress-appointees.

More importantly, the large issue is should Raj Bhavans be reduced to “old-age homes” where old political loyalists are dumped? 

The Supreme Court clearly wanted only "reputed elder statesmen, able administrators and eminent personalities" to be appointed governors. But, since the Independence, very few eminent persons in fields other than politics and civil or military service have been appointed governors.

The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations had even suggested that a governor should be someone eminent in some walk of life, one “not too intimately connected with the local politics of the state,” and should not be one “who has taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past.”  

(Published 21 June 2014, 18:13 IST)

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