Nonpartisan Governors

The reported move of the Modi government to change the Governors in various states has predictably evoked strong reactions from not only the Congress party but also some non-partisan observers. After all, when in 2004 the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government removed many Governors appointed during the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, the BJP was at the forefront in criticising the move. In fact, the matter had gone to the Supreme Court, which gave, in my considered opinion, a very ambiguous ruling. While it said that Governors could not be dismissed just because of the change of the guard at the Centre, it nevertheless did not challenge the basic premise that a Governor held office “during the pleasure” of the President of India, which, in effect, meant the “pleasure” of the central government of the day.

I do not want to delve into the legal niceties because the Governors are appointed under political considerations. And I think it is unethical to give legal protection to a sheer political or partisan appointment. In fact, a study by Anand Walunjkar shows that at the moment 51 per cent of the Governors/Lt. Governors in the country are active Congress leaders; 6 per cent are bureaucrat-turned-Congressmen; 40 per cent are former bureaucrats; and 3 per cent are from the military background. The details on the Governors are as follows:

■             Andhra Pradesh: ESL Narsimhan, IPS Officer who worked as Director in Intelligence Bureau until 2006.

■             Arunachal Pradesh: Nirbhay Sharma ,who after 40 years in the Army was appointed Member of Union Public Service Commission .

■             Assam: Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, who was Chief Minister of Orissa during 1980-1989 and 1995-1999.

■             Bihar: D Y Patil, the Maharashtra Congress politician known for opening numerous educational institutes.

■             Chhattisgarh: Shekhar Dutt, IAS officer who retired as Defence Secretary of India (he has quit as I write this).

■             Goa: Bharat Vir Wanchoo, IPS officer considered close to Gandhi family who served as Director of SPG (Special Protection Group) in 2004 for a two year term but extended till 2011.

■             Gujarat: Kamla Beniwal who held many portfolios in Congress governments in Rajasthan.

■             Haryana: Jagannath Pahadia, former Chief Minister of Rajasthan from 1980-81.

■             Himachal Pradesh: Urmila Singh, a Cabinet Minister in Madhya Pradesh till 2003; she also served as MP Congress Committee Chief in 1996-98.

■             Jammu and Kashmir: Narindar Nath Vohra, IAS officer who served as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister IK Gujral and was once the union Home Secretary.

■             Jharkhand: Syed Ahmed, who was elected to Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha 5 times on a Congress ticket.

■             Karnataka:Hansraj Bharadwaj, who was Law Minister in UPA I.

■             Kerala: Sheila Dikshit, the former Delhi Chief Minister

■             Madhya Pradesh: Ram Naresh Yadav who joined the Congress after having a stint as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1977-79 from Janata party.

■             Maharashtra: K Sankaranaray-anan, who served as minister in Kerala in several Congress-led governments.

■             Manipur: V.K. Duggal, IAS officer who was union Home Secretary.

■             Meghalaya: K K Paul, IPS officer and Delhi Police Commissioner from 2004 to 2007.

■             Mizoram: Vakkom Purushotha-man, Congress Minister from Kerala and Speaker of Kerala Legislative Assembly in 2001-04.

■             Nagaland:Ashwani Kumar, IPS officer and CBI Director from 2008-10.

■             Odisha: S C Jamir, four time Chief Minister of Nagaland, who led his party Progressive United Democratic Front to merge with the Congress.

■             Punjab: Shivraj Patil, the former Union Home Minister who had resigned after 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

■             Rajasthan: Margaret Alva, former union minister and a close advisor to Sonia Gandhi. She was also a Congress General Secretary.

■             Sikkim: Shriniwas Dadasaheb Patil, former IAS officer.

■             Tamil Nadu: K Rosaiah, former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister.

■             Tripura: Devanad Konwar, Congress stalwart from Assam.

■             Uttarakhand: Aziz Qureshi, a former Congress minister in Madhya Pradesh in the 70s.

■             Uttar Pradesh: Banwari Lal Joshi, IPS officer who was very close to former PM Indira Gandhi. He has also quit under the present pressure.

Needless to say that all these appointments were made by the previous UPA government without consulting the states concerned as required under constitutional conventions. Two such conventions are that the Governor should belong to the state other than that in which he is being posted and thus remain above the politics of the state and that the appointment of the Governor requires the consultation between the state chief minister and the Union Government. Let me cite the incident of 2004 when the then Home Minister Shivraj Patil telephoned the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa (who did not belong to the ruling UPA at the Centre) to say that the Central Government had decided to remove the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Rama Mohan Rao, and appoint Surjit Singh Barnala at his place. When Jayalalithaa pointed out that the Central Government could not take this decision without consulting her, Patil reportedly replied: “But this is the way that we usually do these things!”

Patil, of course, was speaking the truth. Because it was not a question of the Congress or the UPA; every government at the Centre wants to have its men and women as the Governors and it does not tolerate the nominees of the rival parties. In fact, we have the so-called “Mufti doctrine” on this. Apparently, the then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (V P Singh was the Prime Minister) told the then President R.Venkatarman in 1990 that with the change of government at the Centre there should also be a change of Governor in the states. His theory was that the Governor should be the Center’s ‘own man’.

This being the case over the years, it is really too much to expect the Governors playing impartial or nonpartisan roles. Almost all their decisions in the State are in tune with the positions of the Central Government of the day. In fact, there are cases when a Governor develops a different view, the Central Government sacks him. In 1992, the then Governor of Nagaland M.M. Thomas had dissolved the State Legislative Assembly on the advice of the then Chief Minister retaining him as a caretaker Chief Minister till fresh elections could be held. The Governor had done so in the exercise of his powers under Article 172(2) (b). So displeased was the Central Government that it imposed the President’s rule in the state and dismissed the Governor thereafter!

It may be mentioned here that though every Central Government has abused its rights on the role of the Governors, most bizarre has been the cases of the Congress-appointed Governors. No wonder why such Governors have been reprimanded by the Supreme Court—the examples of Buta Singh and Syed Sibte Rajvi denying the NDA to form governments in Bihar and Jharkhand respectively despite its legislative majority are too wellknown to be repeated. Similarly, the lesser said about utterly partisan roles of the present Karnataka governor H R Bharadwaj to destabilise the then BJP government and Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal to denigrate the then Narendra Modi government the better it is. Both Bharadwaj and Beniwal have done great injustice to their august offices by working virtually as Congress agents to destabilse the BJP government in their respective states.

The Congress has often appointed Congress leaders who are very much in active politics as Governors. The late Arjun Singh, who was Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 1985, was sent as Governor of Punjab, but he returned to his state and became Chief Minister in 1988. S M Krishna, Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2004 was made the Governor of Maharashtra from where he shifted to the Centre as Foreign Minister in 2009. Similarly Sushilkumar Shinde, Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2004 was shifted as the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and from there he straight came to the Centre as the Union Power Minister in 2006. And then, we have the case of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who was appointed the Governor of Kerala in March just few hours before the electoral norms were enforced for the 16th general elections.

And that brings my final point whether active politicians should be appointed as Governors in the first place. The much-talked about Justice Sarkaria Commission and later the “National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution” (in 2001) had suggested some sensible measures towards having a non-partisan Governor: The person to be made the Governor should be appointed by a committee comprising the Prime Minister of India, Union Minister for Home Affairs, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Minister of the state concerned; he should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, particularly in the recent past; his tenure of office must be guaranteed for five years and the provision that the Governor holds office “during the pleasure of the President” be deleted with the provision that there could be impeachment of the Governor by the State Legislature on the same lines as the impeachment of the President by the Parliament; after demitting his office, the person appointed as the Governor should not be eligible for any other appointment or office of profit under the Union or a State Government except for a second term as Governor or election as Vice-President or President of India, as the case may be; and at the end of his tenure, reasonable post-retirement benefits should be provided.

If the above changes are brought about, the office of the Governor would be invested with requisite dignity and integrity. If the Modi government is keen on replacing the present lot of Governors, then it must tell the nation that their replacements will not be active BJP politicians who could not be accommodated in his cabinet and that their appointment and tenure will be as per the norms of the Sarkaria Commission.

By Prakash Nanda
prakashnanda@udayindia.in

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