Revisit role of governor

CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNANCE

The power tussle between the governors and the elected governments are on the rise. The actions of governors in recent times have resurrected the debate on the role of governors in the scheme of constitutional governance. 

Most notably, the governors of West Bengal, Puducherry and Maharashtra are in news for the wrong reasons. It is better to say less about the intervention of governors in the functioning of elected governments in the BJP-ruled states.

The Maharashtra Assembly elections were held on October 21 and the results were declared on October 24. On November 9, the governor invited the single largest party, BJP to come forward and to form the government after waiting for 16 days. This was followed by similar invitations to the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party.  

However, the governor did not invite the Congress to form the government.  Defending his actions, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari said that the “party with 44 members could have never achieved the “magic figure” of 145 in the 288-member House in the report sent to the office of President. 

The question naturally arises is that, why the governor has not applied the same logic for the NCP and Sena which have won only 10 and 12 seats more than that of Congress? The second-largest-Shiv Sena- with its 56 seats has alleged that the governor has not given adequate time for its claim to form the government by rejecting their requisition letter for extending the deadline. 

The party argues that the governor has given more time for the BJP (two days) and less time for them (one day) to stake a claim in forming the government. The party filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the governor’s action recommending for President rule in the state as per the Article 356 of the Constitution.

In West Bengal, the scenario is different. The Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy has said that “the governor is exceeding his brief on a regular basis. He is trying to run a parallel administration in Bengal. What the governor is doing does not behove him as he is occupying a constitutional post. If he wants to do politics, he is free to do so. But then he should leave Raj Bhawan and openly do politics. I have raised the matter in Parliament". 

The governor has refuted the allegations and stated that the statements that he was running a parallel government were false and what he was doing was well within his constitutional limits and he was well aware of it. 

Here, the concern is the governor’s intervention in the functioning of day to day governance affairs of the state. Apart from the truth behind these allegations and counter-allegations, the situation and the matter of concern is the role of governors in the governance.

The action of governors in these states has once again brought the partisan nature and character of the office of governor controlled by the ruling party at the Centre. Our constitution makers had cautioned about the appointment of political persons as governors. Unfortunately, it has become an unwritten rule in Independent India.  

The Administrative Reforms Commission (1968) observed that with the appointment of governors who are politically affiliated/inclined, then “the worth and dignity of the office greatly suffers”. 

In this context, it is worth to recollect the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission (1988) emphasizing the character of the personalities to be appointed as governors. It stated that, “Four criteria for being appointed governor, including that the person should be 'eminent in some walk of life, should be a person from outside of the State, and should be detached and not too intimately connected with local politics of the state..”.

Former President Dr Rajendra Prasad made the following observation about the critical role of governor in the context of party politics. “Nowadays, because of differences between the various political parties or members of the same party… it is necessary, therefore, that the people of a state should have full confidence in a supreme non-partisan institution like that of governor”.

Why this is happening and how to explain this phenomenon?  A part of the answer lies in the mode of appointment of governor by the President in consultation with the prime minister as the head of the Union executive. The appointment of governors is only by nomination and not through the electoral system. 

Strong influence

The indirect method of appointing governors by the Union government has a lot of space to exercise a strong influence on not only the office of governor but also on its nature and mode of its functionality. This pattern of political appointment of governors has captured the executive powers of the office of governors in the scheme of governance.  

It is clear from the constituent assembly debates that the office of governor is instituted so as to act as an organic link between the Union and state governments.  The office of governor has to perform the role of link when it comes to implementation of the constitutional provisions at the state level. 

To achieve this, the appointment of governors needs a comprehensive revision with the active involvement of state governments. In this regard, the Inter-State Council recommended that the prime minister should consult the Vice-President of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha in appointing the governor to enhance the institutional credibility in the process of selection. 

A political and legal consensus is the need of the hour to institute a mechanism through a constitutional amendment if necessary, for the appointment and functioning of governors who can act as guardian of constitutional governance rather than acting as loyalties to the Union or nominated government. 

This is critical to maintain and sustain the institutional efficacy of the governor’s office and democratic stability. Otherwise, the governor’s office may lose relevance and necessity.

(The writer is PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru)

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