DC Edit | Governors should stick to their role, can\'t sit on bills

The latest stand-off in Tamil Nadu has spilled on to the streets with public protests against the governor

Way back in 1959 when the world’s first elected Communist government led by E.M.S. Namboothiripad in Kerala was dismissed, purportedly on the recommendation of then governor Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai questioned the need for the post of one in a democracy. He equated it with that of a goat’s stubble, saying, in Tamil, “Aatukku thaadium nattukku governorum thevaiillai (a state does not need a governor just as a goat has no use of a beard)”, setting the tone for the DMK and its breakaway party, the AIADMK’s, subsequent opposition to governors.

The scene has not changed much though as a democracy India has strengthened its institutions and stabilised them over the decades. Governors continue to exert undue influence over the decisions of elected governments even though high courts and the Supreme Court have intervened several times to assert the primacy of the council of ministers in matters of governance. Often they act as agents of the Union government, especially in states which are run by political dispensations opposed to that in the Centre, and frustrate the state governments’ plans. In Telangana, the governor says it is difficult to work with the chief minister; in West Bengal, the two top constitutional functionaries spar in public and in Maharashtra, the governor comes out criticising the state government over which he presides. Kerala’s governor is known for throwing tantrums at will.

The latest stand-off in Tamil Nadu, however, has spilled on to the streets with public protests against the governor sitting on bills passed by the state Assembly.

The DMK which criticised the interference of the earlier incumbent of the gubernatorial post, Banwarilal Purohit, in public affairs even as an Opposition party in 2017, did not take kindly to the appointment of R.N. Ravi, a former intelligence officer, as governor in 2021. Though the ruling party did not openly express resentment, the DMK’s alliance partners went out all guns blazing against Mr Ravi, anticipating trouble for the elected government. The governor, too, lived up to the apprehension by being a stumbling block for the government in the implementation of its schemes.

As of now, the allegation is that he has put 19 bills passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in cold storage. One of them is the bill seeking exemption of the state from NEET for admission to medical colleges run by the state government with a view to enabling poor and rural students from disadvantaged sections of the society to realise their dream of becoming doctors on the basis of their marks in the school final examinations, a criteria that had produced generations of medical professionals in the state. Another bill relates to the restructuring of cooperative bodies in the state.

The state government is anxious over the bill being held back for 210 days, despite it being passed for the second time after the governor first returned it to the Assembly for reconsideration since medical admissions are round the corner and poor and rural students might miss out on their opportunities for one more year.

The Constitution makers envisaged no critical role for the governor; least of all, on sitting in judgment over the wisdom of the legislature, elected by the people. The governors would do well to stick to constitutional propriety instead of seeking a role outside it.

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