Turning Governors Into Political Pawns: How independent are our Governors?
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
In his speech on the constitutional role of the Governor, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar described how a Governor should use his discretion not as ‘representative of a party’ but as ‘the representative of the people as a whole’. Yet, this is the complete opposite of what we are witnessing since the implementation of the Constitution.
According to the Constitution, the primary function of the governor is to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law in the administration of the State affairs. The provision for the same is incorporated in his/her oath of office under Article 159 of the Indian Constitution. The primary function that the Governor performs is that of keeping the centre informed about the state ministry. The Governor, who is conceptualised to be the constitutional head or the executive head of the state, no longer reflects an independent position of responsibility but an office that is heavily influenced by top-level politics and used as an instrument to dissolve the state governments. The working of the Governor is the same as the office of the President of India, especially in the context of complying with the arbitrary diktats of the Central government. The appointment of rubber stamp Governors, controlled by the Union government, has been the key factor for the deterioration of federal relations since decades, which has only accelerated under the rule of the cuurent NDA government.
There are various instances involving the misuse of the Governor’s power by the ruling BJP party to topple the state governments; the most recent case being that of Rajasthan. The Governor, Kalraj Mishra, repeatedly turned down the advice of the Council of Ministers to convene a session of the Rajasthan Assembly and insisted that a 21-day prior notice is essential for the session due to concerns over social distancing and appropriate recording of proceedings (the main purpose for delaying the session was to give time for horse-trading). He agreed to summon the house, only after the Council of Ministers agreed to the 21-day notice.
On the other hand, the Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala helped in the hurried swearing-in of B.S Yeddyurappa as the CM, on the command of higher authorities in New Delhi. Not only this, but he also gave the BJP leader 15 days to prove his majority, which was viewed by the opposition parties as a the Governor's consent to BJP for buying MLAs. Later, this was solved with the intervention of the court.
Madhya Pradesh is also one such example where The Congress-led government was pushed to the margins following the resignation of 22 MLAs, who were believed to be loyalists of the former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, who later chose to defect to the BJP. The opposition BJP claimed that the Congress-led government was no longer in majority and demanded an immediate floor test. The BJP leaders also claimed that the minority government did not have any constitutional right to convene a budget session or get the Governor's address delivered. The state Governor, Lalji Tandon, directed the then Chief Minister Kamal Nath to seek a trust vote in the assembly and stipulated the early commencement of the floor test against the popular demands. CM Kamal Nath lashed back at the decision, stating that the opposition BJP was holding the rebel MLAs captive in Bengaluru and a floor test would be undemocratic in the absence of these legislators, after which the Speaker N.P. Prajapati finally decided to adjourn the Assembly.
Other such cases that occurred under the NDA government were in Uttrakhand, Maharashtra, Manipur, and Goa. In Uttrakhand, where the Congress government headed by Harish Rawat went into crisis as nine MLAs defected reducing the Congress party to a minority, a date was fixed for the government to prove its majority on the floor of the House. The Narendra Modi Government at the Centre was not sure whether the defected members would stay out or rejoin the party. So, 24 hours before the floor test was to be conducted, the government was dismissed but the Assembly was not dissolved. Clearly, the BJP thought that it could form the government with the help of the defectors but the Congress Government went to the High Court and got a verdict in its favor as the floor test was ordered. In Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance secured a comfortable majority in the 2019 Assembly elections, but the alliance couldn’t form the government due to differences over CM’s chair. The state was intimately placed under the President’s rule at Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s recommendation. The Shiv Sena then inclined towards the Congress and NCP. However, before the three parties could stake the claim, Governor Koshiyari administered the oath of the CM’s office to BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis with NCP leader Ajit Pawar his deputy. The President’s rule was revoked at 5.47 am and oath took place shortly. Later, Fadnavis himself resigned before the floor test and Uddhav Thackeray took oath as the next CM with the support of the Congress and NCP.
As we notice over the years, the Union government has increasingly misused the Governor’s powers to de-stabilize the state governments and seek electoral gains. Now the first thing that a party does when it comes to power at the Centre is to change the governors of the States and Union Territories. Our honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, who came to power in May 2014, changed the governors in 26 of the 29 States. He also changed all the seven Lt. Governors in charge of smaller units called Union Territories, which are more or less under the strict control of the center. Our constitution makers could have opted for a presidential form of government but they preferred the parliamentary form of government because they wanted to give the Indian states their desired powers and autonomy.
It is high time we must contemplate whether the office of governor is being used or misused?
Should politicians be allowed to be nominated as the Governors? Do the Governors have the power to turn down the recommendations of the State Council of Ministers? In Arunachal Pradesh in 2015, the Governor changed the schedule of a session and set its agenda without a recommendation from the Chief Minister. Is it under the Governor’s function to exercise the responsibility of the Speaker? We must question the arbitrary power of the central government and truly make the office of the Governor as ‘representative of the people as a whole’ to safeguard democracy.