No more yes men: Why India must abolish the governor's office
Shouldn't we uproot an institution that has failed our Constitution and our federal structure?
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At the Inter State Council meeting, headed by prime minister Narendra Modi, three chief ministers – Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banarjee – raised the demand of the scrapping the governor’s office.Congress leader Pema Khandu (right) takes oath as Arunachal CM after Supreme Court ruled against President's Rule in the state.
And when we see how political has become the institution of the governor, the demand has a valid point. Besides vitiating the relation between state governments and the Centre, the governor offices are a heavy cost burden on taxpayers’ money.
They all have palatial residences, offices and an elaborate entourage but their Constitutional duty has become an opportunity of political freeship – a retirement posting – or a gift of political patronage.
Today’s governors are far removed from the high pedestal Mahatma Gandhi put them on. He envisioned an institution of the governor that would be neutral and would work as the Constitutional custodian to help the elected representatives of the states.
He envisioned for a constructive outsider’s perspective from the governors in managing the affairs of the states.But what started with Indira Gandhi has become a nightmare today.
Indira Gandhi started polluting the institution of the governors by installing people loyal to her irrespective of their credentials. The governors, in fact, transformed into meek and complacent "yes men" during her tenure. During her 15 years in the prime minister’s office, President’s Rule was imposed 50 times in different states – a record.
Today’s governors are followers of that thought process. Though they are appointed in the name of the President of India, their lifeline begins and ends at the prime minister’s office. If governors are in news today, it is only because of this or that controversy - with allegations of them working on behest of the Union government to destabilise democratically elected state governments.
And they are again in line of fire with the Supreme Court invalidating the governor's action, first in Uttarakhand, then in Arunachal Pradesh.
The Supreme Court, in a first, dismissed a government in Arunachal Pradesh that was formed by the Congress rebels and had already proved its majority in the Assembly floor test - and reinstated the Nabam Tuki government of the Congress party, the leading political outfit of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the predecessor of the present National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Delhi.
Nabam Tuki asked for 10 days to prove majority but the governor was not ready to go beyond two days – even after the top court’s scathing remarks in the case. Congress could somehow save the day by replacing Nabam Tuki with Pema Khandu, son of former Arunachal chief minister Dorjee Khandu, and a compromise candidate acceptable to both, Congress rebels as well as Nabam Tuki factions.
And the Arunachal Pradesh experience came just after the Uttarakhand embarrassment. Here also, the governor’s machinations led to imposition of the President’s Rule in the state that was later overturned by the Supreme Court. The Congress government led by Harish Rawat won the floor test under the SC supervision and was reinstated in May 2016, much to dismay and loss of face of the governor and the BJP led Union government.
There is a norm that when the Union governments change, they install their own people as the state governors to keep a tab on many things - to keep a check - and to act when it matters - when there is a chance (like in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh) – irrespective of the Supreme Court’s 2010 judgement that ruled that “the governors cannot be changed with change in the guard at the Centre” – a landmark decision that the top court revisited in 2014 while hearing former Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Mizoram governor Aziz Qureshi who had alleged that the Narendra Modi government was putting pressure on him to leave the office.
Though the Modi government sacked Qureshi in March 2015, the case is still in the Supreme Court – on easing governors out of the office or asking them to resign arbitrarily.
The NDA government, led by Narendra Modi, had its inaugural in May 2014. And in the first two years, it has already changed governors in 20 states.
So far, the BJP has appointed 17 governors in 20 states. Three governors have been given the additional charge of three states for the time being - in Assam, Manipur and Punjab. Of these 17, 14 are former BJP politicians - Keshri Nath Tripathi (West Bengal), Ram Naik (Uttar Pradesh), Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Kaptan Singh Solanki (Punjab and Haryana), PB Acharya (Nagaland and Assam), V Shanmuganthan (Meghalaya and Manipur), C. Vidyasagar Rao (Maharashtra), Vajubhai Vala (Karnataka), Droupadi Murmu (Jharkhand), OP Kohli (Gujarat), Mridula Sinha (Goa), Balramji Dass Tandon (Chhattisgarh) and Ram Nath Kovind (Bihar) and Tathagata Roy (Tripura).
The other three are known to have pro-BJP tilt - ex-CJI P Sathasivam (Kerala) - former bureaucrat JP Rajkhowa (Arunachal Pradesh) and Ramdev confidante Acharya Dev Vrat (Himachal Pradesh). Similar is the case with the lieutenant-governors of Delhi and Puducherry.
The lieutenant-governor of Delhi, though a UPA appointee, is now seen as a BJP man while Kiran Bedi, the Puducherry L-G, was the BJP's CM candidate in the 2015 Delhi Assembly polls.
Najeeb Jung, a Muslim face, is a logical choice to handle the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi that is always in a combative mood and acts like it is some sworn BJP enemy. Nine states still have governors appointed by the UPA.
Some of them are completing their terms this year and some the next year. And none of these states have a BJP government. Yes, the party in alliance in two states - in Andhra Pradesh (TDP) and in J&K (PDP) - but the governors of both of these states are retired bureaucrats and working with bureaucrats is always easy than with politicians. They are always amenable to be co-opted.
Andhra Pradesh governor ESL Narasimhan, who has the additional charge of Telangana, is completing his term next year. He is a former IPS officer and IB director.
NN Vohra, who is J&K's governor since June 2008, is a former Union Home and Defence Secretary. Tamil Nadu and Odisha have strong non-BJP state governments with strong chief ministers and the BJP would not like to have adventures here. K Rosaiah, a Congress man and the former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, was appointed Tamil Nadu's governor in August 2011 while SC Jamir, a former Congress chief minister of Nagaland is Odisha's governor since March 2013.
Ram Naresh Yadav, the controversial Madhya Pradesh governor, is an old Janata Party name though he contested his last election on a Congress ticket. As a Janata Party MLA, he was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1977 to 1979.
KK Paul who was shifted from Mizoram to Uttarakhand in January 2015, is again a UPA appointee. He was appointed by the UPA government as the Meghalaya governor in July 2013. He is a retired IPS officer and the former Delhi Police Commissioner.
governors of Mizoram and Sikkim, electorally unimportant states, have former Indian government officials as their governors. Mizoram's Nirbhay Sharma, who has been transferred from Arunachal Pradesh, is a retired Indian Army official while Sikkim's Shriniwas Patil, though an NCP MP, is a retired bureaucrat.
Also, either BJP or any of its ally is not in the office in these two peaceful north-east states don't have governments.
They are either the BJP men or have been efficiently co-opted by the BJP - as is the case with non-political governors appointed by the NDA - or even with the governors appointed by the UPA. They hold the office directly under the control of the Union government - willingly or unwillingly.
So, in totality, the game is set. What the Narendra Modi government wanted to do the governors in states, is now more or less done. The government has its men in the offices spread across Indian states.
And the designs are similar - to what we have seen in the past. If the President's Rule has been imposed 125 times so far, there have very few instances when it was a real Constitutional crisis.
Mostly, it was the hegemony of the Centre over the states - be it the dismissal of the NTR government in 1984 - or of the Kalyan Singh's UP government in 1997 or - or dismissals of the elected governments of Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in 2016 - and all similar instances in between.
We have had even a governor who was caught getting intimate with three girls in his official residence and he was over 80 then!
governors have been the figurehead political pawns here. In fact, if we see in the history, we don't have anything to talk about on the contribution of governors in nation-building.
If they are not engaged in the machinations of the central government to keep a tab on the state governments of rival parties, they are mostly reserved for decorative practices like attending events, inaugurating seminars and regular visits to Delhi.
In normal times, we hear about a governor only when he administers the oath of office to the elected representatives. Why should we bear the cost of them - with their non-existent presence and thrifty practices when each state has a High Court and its chief justice can administer the oath of office as well as can keep a tab more efficiently to see if the Constitutional machinery is intact?
There must be a proper audit to estimate the financial burden that goes into lubricating the institution of the governor.
I am sure it would be huge - especially when we see it in a historical perspective - the five decades of cost overruns - post Jawaharlal Nehru - when big names of our independence struggle like C Rajagopalacari or Sarojini Naidu were appointed as governors.
Why shouldn't we uproot an institution that has failed our Father of the nation - our Constitution - and our federal structure - where we envision that the Centre and states would share powers equally?
The courts agree that the Article 356 have been widely abused and have passed orders against it. Political parties consistently talk about it. When Narendra Modi was chief minister, he was a vehement supporter of strengthening India's federal structure.
But the irony has been - every political party that comes to the Centre - starts interpreting the institution of the governor and the Article 356 for its vested interests - including Narendra Modi's BJP.