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Why governors are speaking out of turn

Jyoti Malhotra
Jyoti MalhotraDec 21, 2015 | 16:33

Why governors are speaking out of turn

One more overzealous governor has joined the hyper list of constitutional figures exceeding their authority and even encroaching upon the space of the elected government.

All of last week in Parliament, the Congress party repeatedly adjourned both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha by walking out or drawing attention to the capers of Arunachal Pradesh governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, who ordered the convening of the state Assembly one month in advance (in mid-December instead of mid-January), without the consent of former chief minister Nabam Tuki of the Congress party.

Tuki was finally toppled on December 17 by 11 BJP MLAs, 20 Congress dissident MLAs and two independents (total 33 in a 60-member House), when a community hall in Itanagar was converted into an "Assembly" and speaker Nabam Rebia was "impeached."

Soon enough a full-blown constitutional crisis was taking place in Arunachal. The Gauhati High Court has since stayed Rajkhowa's decision to advance the Assembly session until February 2, but Rajkhowa has appealed against the high court's order. Meanwhile, Tuki has written to the president and prime minister appealing for help in sorting out the crisis.

So who is Jyoti Rajkhowa? A former chief secretary of Assam, Rajkhowa had been appointed governor by the Modi-led BJP government recently, ostensibly because of his interest in Northeastern tribal issues as well as his outspoken comments on Bangladeshi immigrants in India.

Before he became governor, one year ago, Rajkhowa had said that he believed Modi could solve the problem of Assam, by halting illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Even after he became governor of Arunachal, speaking at the Rajiv Gandhi University in Itanagar on September 14, Rajkhowa said that the indigenous population of the region would soon become a minority if illegal immigration wasn't checked.

Rajkhowa joins a list of the BJP activists - even though he was never with the BJP - who have been awarded with the prestigious position of governor by the Modi government. Tripura governor Tathagatha Roy and Nagaland & Assam governor Padmanabha Acharya have in recent weeks and months made openly political statements that have violated clear constitutional norms.

Roy was catapulted to the national stage in the wake of the hanging of Yakub Memon in August when he tweeted that all those who followed Memon's janaaza or funeral were "potential terrorists".

While Acharya, about a month ago, had stated that "Hindustan was for Muslims" and if Indian Muslims were unhappy, "they could go to Pakistan".

Even Ram Naik, Uttar Pradesh governor and a former minister for oil and gas in the Vajpayee government, has been in the middle of a tussle with the Akhilesh Yadav government. With his vast experience Naik should certainly have known better, but he has called the state's law & order machinery into question, passed comments on how the elderly are a burden on the state exchequer and stopped the national anthem mid-sentence.

The Samajwadi Party government is clearly incensed with Naik, with the senior SP leaders calling him an "RSS agent."

At the time Roy and Acharya made their statements, the BJP attempted some damage control. Home minister Rajnath Singh called both governors and advised them to keep their public comments in the realm of the mundane and the ordinary.

At least, Tathagatha Roy shows no signs of having been chastised.

In an interview with India Today, Roy said, "Is it laid down anywhere in the Constitution, in black-and-white, that governors are not supposed to speak their mind? Has the Supreme Court said anything? It has not. It is your opinion that governors should not cross the "Lakshman Rekha", but my views and yours don't have to coincide. Until the Supreme Court censures me, I will speak. And please note that I have not retracted my statement on the Yakub Memon funeral," he added.

While his elevation to governorship means that he can no longer be a BJP member, Roy has made no changes to his Twitter page. The former member of the BJP's West Bengal unit Twitter bio reads: "Governor, Indian state of Tripura. Aware of his compulsions but will always fight against double standards betn (between) communities. A proud Swayamsevak forever." Naturally, he is wearing a saffron kurta in the Twitter profile photo.

A quick reading of his Twitter feed reveals Roy's interests and persuasions, which include an abiding persecution of Bengali Hindus in Bangladesh (and presumably, earlier in East Pakistan), terrorism linked to Islamists in India and the world, the BJP/RSS as well as retweets of Taslima Nasreen.

For example:

*But we Bengali Hindus can forget only at our peril what philosopher Santayana said: "Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it"

*Strangely, history of exodus of Hindus of E Bengal hv bn kept under wraps by us, the very victims! Let bygones be bygones, we say! Stupid!

*The history of murder, loot & rape of 1 Crore Hindus of E Bengal has been hidden fm the world. It is my life's mission to expose that history

*I feel VERY STRONGLY abt Nehru's pact with Liaquat Ali on 8 April 1950 whereby he consigned Hindus of E Bengal to the mercy of Pakistan govt

*Pandit Nehru's achievemts must include 1. Unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir 2. Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai & 1962 3. Sacrificing E Bengal Hindus

Roy's retweet of Taslima Nasreen says that "If Kashmir becomes an independent country, India will get another terrorist neighbor." And to a Reuters tweet showing a sketch of a bearded and angry Abid Naseer, 26, sentenced for 40 years by a New York court for conspiring to bomb a part of England, Roy states: "Quite a looker, isn't he?"

But none of his comments seem to have seriously damaged Roy, indicating that he continues to enjoy good standing with the RSS. Rajnath Singh is believed to have suggested to him that he shut down his Twitter account, but he has ignored the suggestion.

The question whether governors, in their position as constitutional authorities, can make public comments is an old one; even older is the charge that political parties in power have used the post of the governor to promote the political ideology that they once espoused.

Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told India Today that "there was nothing wrong if governors speak their minds, as they had the freedom of speech to do so."

But TR Andhyarujina, former solicitor-general and noted Supreme Court advocate unhesitatingly debunks the argument. "That's a nonsensical statement to make. The governor has absolutely no constitutional authority to make statements of a political nature which are not authorised by the state cabinet."

Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap points out that the job of the governor has increasingly become a sinecure, both expressions of gratitude by the party in power as well as the adjustment of those who have not been given political responsibilities.

Much like the Congress, the Modi government's gubernatorial appointees are mostly party loyalists. Jharkhand governor Draupadi Murmu was an active BJP leader in Odisha, Meghalaya governor V Shanmuganathan is an old-timer in the Sangh Parivar, while Ram Naik is a three-time MP.

The Congress, too, was particularly susceptible to charges of gubernatorial nepotism. Former CBI chief Ashwani Kumar was made Nagaland governor when he retired, but it helped that he was once part of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's security entourage. Just like BL Joshi, once part of Indira Gandhi's security team and later governor in Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand as well as lieutenant-governor of Delhi. While Bharat Vir Wanchoo, former governor of Goa was once chief of the Special Protection Group, when he protected both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Perhaps the key difference between the Congress and BJP loyalists who become governors is that the pro-Congress representatives learnt to keep their comments out of the public sphere.

For example BK Nehru was hugely critical of Indira Gandhi's decision to remove Farooq Abdullah as chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir in 1984, saying that he had become a threat to national security. But he chose to air his disagreement, not at the time, but in a book called Nice guys come second, that was published much later.

Former Karnataka governor HR Bhardwaj also enjoyed his 15 seconds of fame when he handed over charge, when he told journalists that he had been told by the Congress party not to criticise the allegedly and hugely corrupt Reddy brothers of Bellary.

The BJP loyalists, clearly, have not learnt to emulate their predecessors in their new shoes. Perhaps some of the outspokenness is due to a lack of sophistication of being in power as long as the Congress has. But the BJP governors are also different because they are willing to wear their saffron hearts on their sleeves, their Twitter feeds and on TV. They continue to believe, especially off-the-record, that their primary allegiance lies not to the state but to the Sangh Parivar.

But Rajkhowa, a civil servant all his life, has gone much further than his former BJP colleagues in the Raj Bhavans of Assam and Tripura. He argues that all was not well with Arunachal Pradesh, which forced him to take this drastic step. Fact is, that this step has helped in the toppling of an elected government.

Last updated: December 21, 2015 | 16:41
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