Are they hatchet men?

Governor holds a Constitutional post and s/he must live up to the dignity of the office.

 The move to change the governors of some states has predictably touched off storm and generated an intense debate on the role and function of the governor. The change of governors has almost become a routine exercise after the change of regime at the Centre. Two governors have already quit while some others have refused to budge demanding written communication. The Union home secretary reportedly called and asked them to bow out of office.

Article 156(1) of the Constitution mandates that the governor shall hold office during the pleasure of the President, and Article 156(3) provides that subject to President’s pleasure, a governor shall hold office for a term of five years. Thus President’s pleasure overrides the term of governor who does not have any guarantee of tenure though s/he performs important Constitutional functions. 

It is often said in a lighter vein that even a peon in the government service enjoys better protection than a governor who can be removed or transferred at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately every party on coming to power does this conveniently forgetting the eloquent principle that it espouses while being in the opposition. 

In 2004, the UPA government removed four governors -- Vishnu Kant Shastri, Kailash Pati Maishra, Babu Parmanand and Kedarnath Sahni -- on the ground that they had been active functionaries of the RSS.

Late BJP MP B P Singhal had moved the Supreme Court against it where the government took the stand that if, after an election, a party came to power with a social and economic agenda and if it was found that the governor of a state was not in sync but would rather be antithetical to its policies, then it could remove such a governor. 

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court decided that since the governor holds office during the pleasure of the President, it is not imperative to give reasons or notice for his/her removal from the office. However, the Court added, “The President, in exercise of power under Article 156(1), should act in a manner that is not arbitrary or unreasonable. Where a prima facie case of arbitrariness or mala fides is made out, the court can require the Union government to produce records/materials to satisfy itself that the withdrawal of pleasure was for good and compelling reasons. What would constitute good and compelling reasons would depend upon the facts of the case.” 

It is a good example of judicial activism that while the Supreme Court acknowledged that it was not necessary to give reasons for the removal of a governor, it assumed the power of judicial review on the ground that the President cannot act in an arbitrary or capricious manner.

An abused office 

It is true that the office of the governor is one of the most abused offices acting on the Union government’s bidding. It is good that the apex court categorically laid down that a governor is “not an employee of the Union Government, nor the agent of the party in power nor required to act under the dictates of political parties”. 

It also clarified that they are “not expected or required to implement the policies of the government or popular mandates”. However, governors have been used for destabilising the state governments ruled by opposition parties. Some of the Raj Bhavans have become centres or akhadas of politics where intrigues and manipulations have free run. 

There are instances when governors have brazened it out to favour the ruling party at the Centre. The way Ram Lall dismissed the government of N T Rama Rao or Romesh Bhandari removed Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh testifies to the fact that governors behave like the hatchet men of the Centre. 

The Supreme Court applied the brake on the whimsical invocation of Article 356 by pronouncing in S R Bommai v Union of India that the dismissal of any state government is subject to judicial review, and the court can revive the legislative Assembly if dissolved. 

The Janata Party, which enjoyed a majority in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, formed the government under the leadership of S R Bommai. 

In September 1988, the Janata Party and the Lok Dal merged to form the Janata Dal. Consequently, the council of ministers was expanded by inducting 13 members. However, within two days, a JD MLA, K R Molakery, defected from the party and presented a letter to the governor along with 19 letters, allegedly signed by MLAs supporting the government, withdrawing their support. The governor immediately sent a report to the President that the state government had been reduced to a minority and deserved to be dismissed. 

Next day, 7 MLAs out of those 19 who had allegedly written letters sent letters to the governor that their signatures had been obtained by misrepresentation, and that they still supported the government. 

Bommai requested the governor to allow him to prove his majority on the floor of the House and even asked him to advance the scheduled session. Not paying any heed to him, the governor sent another letter to the President requesting him to for action under Article 356(1) of the Constitution, and the President lost no time in issuing the proclamation dismissing the state government. 

Bommai then challenged the dismissal of his government in the high court which dismissed his petition. Then he appealed in the Supreme Court which pronounced a landmark judgment which drastically changed the Centre-State relations.

Governor holds a Constitutional post and s/he must live up to the dignity of the office. Many a time governors resign in order to contest elections. Governors must be non-partisan, and only people of eminence should hold the august office as recommended by the Sarakaria Commission as well as the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution.

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