For a Governor who knows his job

Articles of Faith

Governors! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing!

With apologies to Edwin Starr for rephrasing his song, this seems to be the national consensus, given the actions of recent Governors. Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari is the latest in the eye of the storm for his decision to recommend President’s Rule in the state after all the four major parties there failed to form the government, more than a fortnight after the Assembly election results were announced.

To be fair to Koshyari, he was in an unprecedented situation -- the largest pre-poll alliance, which had a clear majority, broke up and hectic parleys were taking place between parties which, days before, were sworn political enemies. The state government could not be in suspended animation forever, and while his timing could have been better, it’s incontrovertible that no party or coalition was in a position to form a government and President’s Rule was the only way out.

That doesn’t change some of the fundamental criticisms made against the office of the Governor. The post is a carry-over from the Government of India Act, 1935, and was intended to control the legislatures which were composed of Indian representatives of provinces. The conduct of Governors even for the brief period under which the 1935 Act was in force was criticised by leaders of the independence movement who were also in those elected legislatures and governments.

Yet, much as they resented the interference of the Governor in their jobs, the same leaders in the Constituent Assembly chose to retain the post in the Constitution for independent India. They saw Governors performing a dual role -- as the constitutional head of a State, and the representative of the Union government. The latter aspect led to many members of the Constituent Assembly criticising the provisions of the draft Constitution and demanding an elected Governor. However, TT Krishnamachari, in agreeing with the need for nominated Governors and comparing the provisions to other Constitutions, said:

“I would at once disclaim all ideas, at any rate so far as I am concerned, that we in this House want the future Governor who is to be nominated by the President to be in any sense an agent of the central government. I would like the point to be made very clear, because such an idea finds no place in the scheme of government we envisage for the future.”

This pious hope, however, turned out to be false almost immediately after the Constitution came into force. Governors appointed by the Congress-led Union government interfered freely and lawlessly in the working of the democratically elected opposition-led state governments. The most notorious instance of the Governor’s interference took place in 1952 in Madras State when Governor Sri Prakasa ignored the single largest coalition, the United Democratic Front, which had the majority, and instead invited C Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji, to form the government -- even though he was not even an MLA!

Even today, Governors appointed by the BJP-led government have found ways and means to interfere with the working of opposition-led governments -- when they are not actively helping to bring them down. Whether it is in West Bengal or even tiny Puducherry (with a Lieutenant Governor), Governors seem to want to make the news for all the wrong reasons and seem to think it is part of their job description to do so.

But do we really need Governors for states at all in the first place? Even if the hopes of the Constitution-makers have been belied, the reasons for this post are sound -- an impartial authority who is above party politics and can represent the state, and not just the government. We have seen that the office of the President of India has not been subject to the same kinds of criticisms as the Governor even though, in essence, they perform the same functions, with the Governor enjoying a few more powers.

Perhaps, the need of the hour is to reform the way Governors are appointed -- giving the people of the state a greater say while also retaining the requirement of impartiality from party politics. After all, the Constitution was never meant to be set in stone but to be a document that reflects the experiences and learning of every generation.

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