Abolish or restructure Governor’s post
The sordid drama in Karnataka is over. While there is no doubt it was an unseemly tussle between the political parties in contention for power in the wake of the hung verdict voters of the state delivered, it must still be said that while it is understandable, though not desirable, for political parties to remove their gloves or bare their fangs in the fight for supremacy inside the political rings, what was definitely not okay and shameful was for the Governor of the state to openly take sides in favour of the ruling party at the Centre which appointed him to his post. Thankfully the Supreme Court intervened and did the necessary damage control to allow the due process of law in determining the people’s mandate in a fractured verdict.
The Governor Vajubhai Vala did everything he could, even going beyond established constitutional norms, to ensure a minority BJP government was sworn in with a long leash of 15 days to prove majority in the newly constituted Assembly. It is now history how his outrageous decision was overruled by the Supreme Court, and the BJP government was ordered to prove majority within 48 hours so that the party would have little or no time to poach or purchase MLAs from the other parties in contention.
The then newly sworn in chief minister BS Yeddyurappa had to resign and his two and half day old government vacated the seats of power on the 11th hour of the floor test. It is would make anybody cringe to imagine how the same Governor has been tasked to administer the oath of office, secrecy and loyalty to the constitution, to the new chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal Secular, head of a coalition between his party and Congress, given that he tried to keep him out of office even resorting controversial means. Only a Teflon coated skin can prevent somebody in his position from resigning.
However, if anything good has come out of the Karnataka episode, it is the fact that it has brought the limelight back on the institution of Governor. What exactly is the Governor meant for is a question which has been asked before and is now becoming extremely relevant again. Has this constitutional post been reduced to a vestigial organ? It had a very important function during the colonial days when the very idea of federalism was anathema. Several articles in the constitution define the role and powers of the Governor in the modern Indian state, and they all indicate this post is a colonial legacy, when the centre once distrusted the states and their autonomy.
The Governor in the colonial times was also an administrator so had more uses for the Colonial authorities, among these of course was to provide intelligence of local politics which may become a threat to the colony. Many of these assessments of local situations by Governors of the colonial era are now available as books and are valuable material in studies of the intellectual and temporal structure of British colonialism. Today, a Governor (now also sometimes woman unlike in the colonial days) is no longer an administrator, but though reduced to a ceremonial head, still retains many of the old responsibilities of the colonial state.
As for instance, Article 163 implies he or she is the eye and ear of the Centre and must send periodic reports to the President on the local political situation. But in the same breath the article also says he must act on the advice of the state cabinet. Yet again, Article 156 says the Governor will remain in office till so far as he enjoys the pleasure of the President, which actually means the Union cabinet, for the President acts on the advice of the latter. In other words, the Governor is controlled by the Union cabinet, though under a facade that he is to be the champion of the state he represents.
Constitutional expert and eminent jurist, Fali S. Nariman, has a detailed discussion in his book, “The State of the Nation” on the role of the Governor and historical compulsions which may have shaped the rather conflicting nature of the responsibilities placed on this post. India at the time the constitution was written was a very insecure nation. The trauma of partition was still too immediate in the national psyche, and there was a real danger of the national fragmenting further in the face of the onerous task of yoking together 560 princely states, many of which were reluctant or else rebellious against the idea of merger with the Indian Union. Even in the Northeast, Manipur and Tripura, came to be with the Indian Union only in October 1949.
Under these circumstances, there was every reason for the Centre to be wary of its states. Nariman infers this as the reason why the constitution does not once directly use the word federal. The only indication India is federal is the first article which says “India, that is Bharat, will be a union of states”. The second article leaves room for India to expand its territory, acknowledging the India story then was still incomplete. It was by the invocation of this article Sikkim was incorporated into India in 1975. But the third article, Nariman again points out, is a direct refutation of the first article. By this article, the centre can divide, abolish or change the name of any state, with or without the consent of the state. This obviously was a warning to the rebellious former princely states that their very existence depends on the will of the centre. There are many other features of the early Indian law book which point to the same insecurity, such as the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952, by which the centre can institute an inquiry into the affairs of any state without the consent of the state. Included among these is the post of the Governor and its role as the eye and ear of the centre in the states.
The question now is, should this constitutional post, which is clearly a vestige of the colonial era, be allowed to continue in an India 71 years a republic? Moreover, the Governor is an unelected post, and seldom has its occupants been constitutional experts, so that at times of constitutional crises, they can and have blundered, sometimes out of their own lack of constitutional knowledge and at other times because of their need to please their political masters. Should not the interpretation of the constitution then be left to courts of law at times like the one witnessed in Karnataka recently. In Goa and Manipur earlier, the respective Governors ruled the opposite of what the Karnataka Governor ruled to resolve the hung verdicts of the electorates in these states.
The political parties in contention expectedly appealed for rulings in their favour, but once the arbitrator pronounced his or her judgment, that ruling is what must become the norm in future arbitrations. The appeals of the different parties would become immaterial thereafter. This principle is what has come to thrown into the wind in the present times. This is why, a complete restructuring, if not the abolition, of the post of Governor needs to be debated earnestly now.
(First published in Assam Tribune)
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