Do we need Governers? — It Has Been A Flawed Institution By SAM RAJAPPA ( Editorial )
The recent Supreme Court judgment on the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly based on the recommendation of the Governor, Buta Singh, has once again raised the question whether the office of governor can be dispensed with altogether after having had the experience of its malfunctioning for more than half a century.
A high constitutional office, it must transform itself into something that cannot be converted into an agency of the Centre against state governments formed by parties other than the ruling party at the Centre. Past experience has shown that governors have been acting as agents of the Centre from the outset.
The first general election since independence held in 1952 resulted in the non-Congress United Front in Tamil Nadu, led by T Prakasam, winning more seats than the Congress. But the Governor, Sri Prakash, invited C R Rajagopalachari of the Congress, who had not even been elected to the legislature, to become the Chief Minister. Such was the apathy of the Congress, which had won the Lok Sabha and the Assembly election in almost all the states barring Tamil Nadu, to any other party coming to power. Inviting Rajagopalachari, who was nominated to the Legislative Council, to form the government, was against the spirit of parliamentary system as he had no mandate of the electorate. Again, when Kerala voted the Communists to power way back in 1957, the Governor was directed to dismiss the government on the ground that law and order had broken down, an excuse to impose President’s rule which indirectly is the rule by the party in power at the Centre.
Bihar Governor Buta Singh after all recommended dissolution of the Assembly in deference to the wishes of the United Progressive Alliance government of Manmohan Singh. There was no material to show that Buta Singh actually rejected the claim by Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (U) to form the government. The Supreme Court’s reason to censure Buta Singh that “it would be wholly irrational for constitutional authority to deny the claim by a majority to form the government only on the ground that the majority has been obtained by offering allurement and bribe” would imply that horse-trading is a perfectly acceptable way of forming the government and preventing its use is “subversion” of the Constitution. In the words of Shanti Bhushan, former Union law minister, the majority judgment by Chief Justice YK Sabharwal, Justice BN Aggarwal and Justice Ashok Bhan is “unconstitutional, unethical and illegal.” In the Bihar imbroglio, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who convened the meeting of his Council of Ministers late in the evening and it was he who was instrumental in misleading the President into signing the dissolution proclamation in the dead of the night. His culpability escaped the Supreme Court’s attention.
The Centre has been less than fair to Buta Singh. Having used him to deny an opportunity to Nitish Kumar to form the government, it led him up the garden path by advising him not to take cognizance of the Supreme Court proceedings and take shelter under Article 361 of the Constitution. The Article says the governor “shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those duties,” and that “ no criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the governor of a state in any court during his term of office.” Had he represented himself in the Supreme Court through counsel and defended his action, the verdict might not have turned out so disastrous for him. In the Hargovind versus Raghu Tilak case, the Supreme Court had held that the governor was not amenable to the directions of the government of India. His was an independent constitutional office.
Neither law nor convention requires a governor to function as an agent of the Centre, but as long as he held office at the pleasure of the President, which means the governor can be removed at will, it is difficult to uphold the dignity and independence of the office.
Considering the manner in which governors are selected and posted to states with a view to destabilising governments formed by parties other than the ruling ones at the Centre, the time has come to ask seriously whether the gubernatorial office is necessary for effective governance.
Ostensibly designed to maintain links and building harmonious relationship between the Centre and the States within the framework of co-operative federalism, the office has become a hotbed of intrigues. The only qualification prescribed by the Constitution is that the governor should be a citizen of India and must be of 35 years or more. There is no upper age limit. The governor is appointed by the President on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers while all other posts in the executive and the legislature are elected. The President can remove a governor without assigning any reason. While in theory the governor is the constitutional head of the state, in practice he wields hardly any power. The signing of various documents sent to him by the executive could well be done by the Chief Justice of the High Court who could also administer the oath of office and secrecy to ministers. The “governor’s address” delivered at the opening session of the legislature each year could well be entrusted to the Speaker. Once these tasks are taken away from the governor, he is left with cutting ribbons at exhibitions, mouthing dreary speeches at seminars on subjects ranging from nuclear physics to Neanderthal man.
Whenever the Centre wants to get rid of a state government, the Union Home ministry can prepare the necessary documents, as it has been doing all along under the misnomer “governor’s report.”
In the Constituent Assembly, the Union Constitution Committee, after discussing whether governors should be elected or appointed by the President, came to the conclusion the office of governor was to be “purely ornamental” and Brajeshwar Prasad’s amendment that governors should be appointed by the President was adopted.
Gain & no loss
Prof. K T Shah’s amendment seeking to provide that a governor might be removed from office by impeachment for violation of the Constitution was shot down by BR Ambedkar, chairman of the Drafting Committee, saying the President already had the power to remove a governor from office and “it was needless to burden the Constitution with further limitations.” Shibbanlal Saksena expressed fear that in the absence of safeguards, the governor would be “purely a creature of the President, that is to say the Prime Minister and the party in power at the Centre.” A governor who could be removed by the President at his whim “will have no independence,” he warned.
After the Constitution came into force in 1950, there have been persistent demands for adopting an objective system for appointment of governors. Successive governments have ignored the demands and have gone on appointing persons on party considerations. Parties in power at the Centre have come to consider the appointment of governors as part of the spoils system with scant regard for the suitability or the integrity of the person concerned. Persons of low reputation selected for the high office have relied on liveried attendants and military ADCs to project the impression that the governor personified grandeur and authority in the state.
As long as the constitutional office of the governor remains an agency of the Centre to be used against state governments formed by parties opposed to the ruling party in Delhi, the purpose of the office envisaged by the founding fathers of the
Constitution will remain a distant dream. Nothing will be lost and much can be gained by abolishing the office of the governor in our quasi-federal polity.
The author, a veteran journalist who retired from The Statesman, is based in Chennai.