The job of an Indian governor

They do precious little, remembered only when there is political crisis of sorts and they are required to play a role.


Seema Mustafa June 24, 2014

India has retained a great deal of obsolete British hand-me-downs without really giving much thought to their utility. One of these seems to be the institution of governors, one is sure all good men and women, who are appointed as the representatives of the president of India to head the states. These worthies live in opulent luxury, a hangover from the British Raj, in generally beautiful old Raj Bhawans, with an array of valets, chefs, waiters and what have you. They do precious little — unlike the president who does have a somewhat hectic schedule — and are remembered only when there is a political crisis of sorts and they are required to play a role.

Such as the dismissal of a state government that is not as frequent as it had become at one time. At the drop of a hat, the central government got in a governor’s report to certify that there was ground for dismissal and with one stroke this was done by prime ministers like the late Indira Gandhi, with the state being brought under the president’s rule with the governors then discharging the role of the executive as well. It is largely because of this legacy that all political parties like to appoint a few trusted governors in crucial states, so that if push comes to shove they can rely on their political colleague-turned-governor to file a report as required.

When the Congress-led coalition came to power in 2004, it objected to some of the political governors appointed by the earlier BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, and these worthies resigned and new persons were appointed. The BJP government, back in power after 10 years, has returned the favour and asked seven Congress governors to remit office and go home. A few will be completing their term later this year, one has listened to the BJP and quit, but at least three that including former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit — now Governor of Kerala — and former National Security Advisor MK Narayanan — now Governor of West Bengal — have refused to put in their papers. They have made it clear that under the Constitution they are there at the pleasure of the president and not the government, and were not going to resign.

This has become an interesting development as the government can do little except place the issue before the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, who can then refuse and ask the central government to take another look at its request. And then, of course, if it insists, as it will, sign the order relinquishing the governors of their duties. But if he decides to send back the request for another look this will amount to a moral stricture, that governments do not like to be embellished with. The governors can, in both cases, be expected to approach the courts and given recent judgments on such issues, the verdict can be expected to go against the position taken by the government.

More so, as the courts have ruled that the governors are not in office to suit the pleasure of the government and the ruling dispensation must have convincing grounds to request their removal. The Sarkaria Commission on centre-state relations has made it very clear that politicians should not be appointed as governors and definitely not without a substantial cooling off period and should, as far as possible, be drawn from eminent persons who will bring repute and knowledge into the office.

This, in a sense, is the first confrontation between the Modi government and the Congress, although very interestingly, senior Congress leaders have in off-the-record briefings dissociated themselves from the position taken by the governors. The party is in such total disarray that it continues to speak in several voices and the right hand is not really sure of what the left is doing.

All said and done, the political appointees in the gubernatorial posts are fighting for what they perceive to be their rights, although most of them — as has happened with every successive government — have been appointed straight from the political hot seat to the Raj Bhawan in complete violation of the Sarkaria Commission recommendations. But then politicians are here to violate the rules, and the people exist to pay the price that comes with the weakening and erosion of democratic institutions.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2014.

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COMMENTS (5)

ask | 7 years ago | Reply

@Strategic Asset: he has written in his memoirs & it is duly reported in press. Please browse.

Strategic Asset | 7 years ago | Reply

@ask: I was keenly watching the developments back then, though my knowledge is limited to what I read in the newspapers and saw on TV. I saw that Sonia was upbeat when she went to meet the President but something changed during that meeting and she came out in a morose mood. I also remember that Sonia had an antagonistic relationship with Kalam for the remainder of his term. I don't recall the exact incidents, but one could sense the animosity back then.

Kalam is a gracious man, so I doubt he would ever divulge what really happened.

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