If only the Governor had acted earlier

If only the Governor had acted earlier

The fast turn of events in Tamil Nadu after the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has put the focus back on the governor.

After the Supreme Court judgement holding V K Sasikala guilty in the disproportionate assets case, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao seems to have acted in due diligence and caution by not inviting her to form the government, despite her election as AIADMK legislature party leader. As a result, this has emboldened O Paneerselvam and his supporters, who raised a banner of revolt against Sasikala.

However, the moot question is should the state have been allowed to suffer political uncertainty all these days. Did this not fuel unrest among the people's representatives as the governor kept them waiting in view of the impending judgement? And all the while the Paneerselvam camp had a field day, putting the state administration in a limbo?

In the words of Dr B R Ambedkar, a governor is the representative not of a party; he is the representative of the people as a whole of the state. It is in the name of the people that he carries on the administration. He must see that the administration is carried on at a level which may be regarded as good, efficient and honest administration. Notably, the governor has been assigned a significant role as he has to make a report where he finds that a situation has arisen in which the government of a state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

The governor is not amenable to the directions of the Centre, nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his functions and duties. He is an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the Government of India. The normal rule for the governor is to act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, but there are exceptions under which he can act in his own discretion.

With reports of chaos, skirmishes and forceful eviction of MLAs emerging during the trust vote in Tamil Nadu Assembly on Saturday, Rao’s role again becomes critical, as he has to keep a close watch on the situation to ensure the constitutional principles are not violated.

The governor, however, can hardly afford to play any partisan role in the crisis. The NDA government has already faced embarrassing situations in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where popular will was sought to be ignored by attempts to install alternative governments. The Harish Rawat government was restored when floor test was ordered by the Supreme Court without the dissident MLAs, who subsequently joined the BJP. The Centre had to withdraw the proclamation order for imposing President’s rule.

In its verdict on Arunachal Pradesh last year, the apex court’s Constitution bench said: “The governor must remain aloof from any disagreement, discord, disharmony, discontent or dissension, within individual political parties. The activities within a political party, confirming turbulence, or unrest within its ranks, are beyond the concern of the governor. The governor must keep clear of any political horse-trading, and even unsavoury political manipulations, irrespective of the degree of their ethical repulsiveness”.

With the apex court’s landmark ruling in the S R Bommai case, mandating floor test would be the only way to determine majority in the Assembly, it could be said that Rao could have taken the decision a little earlier and that could have avoided the violent situation witnessed in the House. During the period of uncertainty, a composite test as suggested by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi may have provided the MLAs a chance to show their trust in view of contentions made by rival factions. It was directed by the Supreme Court in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 when Kalyan Singh and Jagdambika Pal claimed majority in the House. The composite floor test took place and as a result 225 votes were secured by Singh and 196 votes by Pal.

With MLAs voting in favour of K Palaniswami after so much drama, the governor should keep his strict eyes on the developments. However, he should remember the apex court’s observation in Arunachal Pradesh judgement: “Who should or should not be a leader of a political party is a political question to be dealt with and resolved privately by the political party itself”.

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