Governors, don’t stoop

Often, the heat, dust and din of participative democracy and partisan politics leaves the constitutional offices as the sole refuge for invoking and reining in threats to constitutional conscience and mandate. Unfortunately, posited as ‘retirement homes’ for geriatric or ‘unaccommodatable political has-beens’, the lazy image of the sprawling Raj Bhawans and their incumbents as indebted ‘rubber stamps’ is increasingly imagined.

The era of open politicisation of the hallowed institutions has seeped into the highest offices of the land, federal states and union territories to inflict ‘political activism’ that betrays constitutional solemnity and rectitude. This misplaced enthusiasm to dispel the ‘rubber stamp’ notion has taken the shape of a brazenly political and communal commentary on social media by the Governor of Meghalaya, and an all-out public spat between the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister of Puducherry.

For some time, the Meghalaya Governor’s comments have been militating against the spirit of adorning and personifying apolitical credentials. His earlier tenure at Tripura was equally rambunctious and unapologetically partisan. His introduction on Twitter as ‘Right-wing Hindu socio-political thinker, writer, ideologue’ has an unmistakable import and wholly avoidable political sophistry.

His earlier observation that “Holding a constitutional post did not require one to be speech and hearing challenged”, implied very unconvincingly and insufficiently that the only way to uphold the constitutional duty was by tweeting extreme statements like, “An appeal from a retired colonel of the Indian Army: Don’t visit Kashmir; don’t go to Amaranth for the next 2 years. Don’t buy articles from Kashmir emporia or Kashmiri tradesman who come every winter. Boycott everything Kashmiri. I am inclined to agree”.

The man has frequently waded into undesirable outreaches. This belligerent approach undoes the sort of far-reaching and transformational impact that ‘Citizen President’ K R Narayan­an had with subtle acts like ‘returning files for reconsideration’ in matters of disagreement, that bore unimaginable moral pressure on the then government.

Even Narayanan’s wholly ‘political’ act of standing in queue to exercise his individual franchise had the optics of a thriving democracy. It is such constitutional ‘activism’ that these wounded times warrant, as there is no dearth of ‘speech and hearing challenged’ in today’s political environment, only a crying dearth of constitutionalists.

Secondly, the federal wiring of the Constitution ushers in a healthy checks-and-balances that ensues with the appointment of a ‘first citizen’, who may have to account for ‘advice by a council of ministers’ that belong to the opposition party, from a central government perspective. Given the political passions, theatrics and electoral calculus of democracy, the onus is on the ‘constitutional conscience keeper’ in the Raj Bhawan to remain the bigger person with restraint, tact and sobriety in tackling the political classes, as opposed to indulging in competitive one-upmanship.

Puducherry has seen unprecedented levels of distasteful flare-ups between the L-G and the CM. The tit-for-tat narrative willy-nilly equates the two offices in such a way that belies the constitutional supremacy of one versus the other. This behavioural outburst also assumes the exhaustion and irrelevance of any other means of conveying a corrective message to the state government, especially since it is tantamount to taking on a comity elected by the people.

There is way too much experience, knowledge and good sense within Puducherry Raj Niwas to be oblivious to the optics that are suggesting a compromise to the mandated spirit of apolitical conduct. The legitimately professional, personal and passionate credentials of the Puducherry L-G could certainly be channelised in a manner behoving the solemnity of the Constitution.

All appointees to constitutional positions have the requisite political ‘clearance’ to get initially proposed and nominated, though the onus and expectation is on the individual to shun the political past and indebt if any, and strictly adorn the constitutional rigidity. The Constitution itself structures the ‘activist’ and ‘pacifist’ roles and agendas onto various government functionaries — to intrude and usurp the spirit of delineation is usually on account of retaining ‘political relevance’, even when the ostensible appointment necessitates rising above the political impulse. Beyond the individuals concerned, it is up to the ruling dispensations to ensure the sanctity of institutions and their occupants.

Gubernatorial or Presidential over-enthusiasm and over-reach is not a new phenomenon and all governments in the past have also been complicit in installing or overlooking the individual acts of constitutional-diminishment. However, as India churns, wallows and remains dangerously susceptible to the throes of its basic instincts, the individual call to honour the tenets of its constitutional solemnity, dignity and rectitude is on each of the individuals who has sworn into office, with the Constitution on hand, heart and spirit.

(The writer is a former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)

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Governors, don’t stoop

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