A governor is not to be trifled with

The BJP shouldn't appoint Governors who'll return to active politics after their term

New Delhi: The institution of governors in In-dia is a colonial legacy. Today some people maintain that they are redundant and should be dispensed with. This is a debatable issue. The founding fathers of our Constitution in their wisdom decided that nominated governors should continue and function like a constitutional head of state as in a parliamentary democracy. In a federation of states, like the US, governors are elected heads of states with executive functions and there is no equivalent of a chief minister. If we now wish to abolish the appointment of governors, this should not be
considered in isolation. We may consider a change over to a presidential form of democracy.

Article156 of our Consti-tution states that a governor holds office at the pleasure of the President. He is appointed by the President on the advice of the Central government. The President also acts on the advice of the Central government to withdraw his pleasure, terminating the tenure of a governor. The governor is a representative of the Centre in the state, but not an agent of the Centre. He is a constitutional authority and should act independently without fear or favour of the ruling party or its alliance partner, if any. It is a different matter that at times some governors have shown lack of impartiality. Thakur Ramlal, the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh was moved by Indira Gandhi to Andhra Pradesh as the governor to get him to recommend the dismissal of N.T. Rama Rao, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He duly complied and recommended the dismissal of N.T. Rama Rao. In the Assembly elections that followed, N.T. Rama Rao came back with a thumping majority and demanded that the governor, Thakur Ramlal, be removed. Rajiv Gandhi concurred.

The Government of India Act of 1935 introduced provincial autonomy, delegating power to elected governments. The powers of the governor were curtailed. Law and order was now delegated to elected provincial governments along with other departments of governance. However, the governors were given special power to dismiss the elected government if law and order went beyond control or when it violated the requirements of law. However, there was not a single instance of a governor resorting to this during British regime.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah bid goodbye to the constitutional means, saying that he too had a pistol in his pocket. He declared Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946. The Muslim League chief minister, Suhrawardy, allowed Muslim mobs to go on the rampage and the police made to turn a Nelson’s eye. The Great Calcutta Killings followed in which some 4,000 people lost their lives in four days. Sir Frederick Burrows, the governor of Bengal, remained a mute spectator and did not dismiss Suhrawardy. He either followed instructions or did so on his own.

The Calcutta killings ignited the Partition holocaust in which hundreds of thousands were killed and millions uprooted.
On coming to power as vice-president of the interim government, Jawaharlal Nehru became a de facto Prime Minister. He did not disturb the British governors or the then two Indian governors in situ. They were allowed to continue. On August 15, 1947, all the British governors, except Sir Archibald Nye in Madras, resigned. He continued for nearly a year after Partition.

All the other governors were now Indians, appointed by the Nehru government. It is pertinent that all the governors in the Nehru era were men and women of eminence and many were veteran Congress leaders. The latter did not revert to active politics after being the governor. Soon after Independence, a crisis arose in Bihar where the governor, Jairamdas Daulatram, was a senior, respected Congress leader during the freedom struggle. The chief minster, Sri Krishna Sinha, was much junior to him in the party. He unduly interfered in the functioning of the state government.

The chief minister threatened to resign. Nehru resolved the controversy by moving Daulatram out of Bihar and sent him as the governor of Assam. He felt that democratic norms in a parliamentary democracy must be maintained. There was no other case in the first 20 years of Inde-pendence when a governor was removed. Governors remai-ned impartial as required in a parliamentary democracy.

Indira Gandhi adopted a different approach. She wanted committed governors, a committed judiciary and a committed bureaucracy. There were several cases of not only the governors being arbitrarily removed. In 1977, when Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister, he changed all the Congress appointed governors. Indira Gandhi did the same on coming back to power in 1980.

In 1998, when the National Democratic Alliance government came to power, no governor appointed by the previous governments was changed. I had been appointed the governor of Assam in 1997 by the United Front Government of I.K. Gujral. In 2003, after completing my full term and more in Assam, I was transferred by the NDA government as the governor to Jammu and Kashmir. On coming to power in 2004, the UPA government removed the BJP appointed governors except me.

Perhaps there was a compulsion in my case because four Congress ministers in People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-Congress coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir had resigned supporting my stand on the Amarnath dispute contrary to that of the PDP chief minister. In 2010, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that a governor should not be removed arbitrarily. Change of government at the Centre was not a sufficient reason for doing so. However, the provision in the Constitution that a governor holds office at the pleasure of the President was not disturbed. Much controversy has arisen over the Narendra Modi government asking the UPA-appointed governors to resign. So far four such governors have resigned. One has reverted to the Congress Party and proposes to fight elections on a Congress ticket.

There is a difference between asking governors to resign and removing them. Governors who favoured the Congress Party while holding that high office or were partisan during President’s Rule, or a chief minister facing a corruption charge being appointed governor soon after being decisively defeated in Assembly polls only a few days before the UPA government went out of power, fall in a different category. There can be legitimate grounds for their removal. However, it would appear unnecessary to press for a governor resigning, when he has a very short time left to complete his tenure.

It may also be mentioned that the practice introduced by the UPA government of chief ministers or Union ministers being appointed governor, and vice-versa, is harmful to the impartial image of a governor. There have been instances of a governor being appointed chief minister or Union minister and the latter appointed governor. This militates against the impartiality of a governor. So far, the Modi government has been taking all the right steps, inspiring people to hope for better days to come.

The BJP should not fall into the trap of appointing to gubernatorial office party leaders who harbour the ambition of returning to active politics after being a governor.

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

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