Indian Law Minister As A Governor
The recent happenings with regard to Karnataka is again a story of those politicians-cum-governors, who always try to subvert the Constitution and downgrade the statutory institutions with a motive to please their masters in the Union government and obey their orders by fair and foul means. They become instruments in souring centre-state relations. To the list of the governors (responsible for crumbling the rules of democracy, rule of law and ethics and downgrading political institutions) like Ram Lal, Buta Singh, Jamir, Romesh Bhandari, Buta Singh can be added Governor, Hans Raj Bhardwaj as team leader. The recent happenings in Karnataka, i.e. the role of Governor (who had been an active politician and was forced out because of Quattrocchi and Bhopal gas tragedy cases) have been because of his desperation and nominal position. He was like Ram Lal, Buta Singh, Jamir who could not get the status the ouster incumbents had—SM Krishna and Shinde had been very straightforward in asking the Congress party high command to send them back to active politics. Surjit Singh Barnala did not accept Chandrashekhar’s advice and is still continuing as Governor. Though the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha was in session, when JD(S) had withdrawn support and the results were clear, the Governor TN Chaturvedi gave a week’s time to the government to seek a trust vote.
The present Governor who had been an active political leader and remained a law minister during all his terms (when Congress was in power) continued a tirade against “his own” government by his public utterances, press statements, press conferences, threatening speeches, intimidating MLAs against the government. He has gone a step ahead of Ram Lal, Romesh Bhandari, Jamir, Rizvi and Buta Singh. None of them gave any press statement against their “own” government. Ram Lal, at an instance, removed NT Rama Rao and appointed Bhaskar Rao. NT Rama Rao met President Zail Singh and showed his strength in Vidhan Sabha, but the President politely said that this power lies with the Governor or the House. At the intervention of the court, NT Rama Rao again became Chief Minister within a few days. Romesh Bhandari did the same thing with Kalyan Singh—he removed him and appointed Jagdambica Paul and the President reprimanded him and Kalyan Singh was restored to his position. The Governor of Goa did the same thing and removed Parikar. Buta Singh did not even administer the oath of membership to new MLAs of Bihar Vidhan Sabha. Rizvi administered the oath of office of Chief Minister to Shibu Soren, ignoring the majority claim of BJP.
Ram Lal was young and ambitions—he wanted direct rapport with the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when there were dissidents against him during his tenure as Chief Minister—Romesh Bhandari was a bureaucrat and wanted to be nearer to the Congress high command to get some political position. Buta Singh had remained an active congressman and Home Minister of India. He had been asked to resign during the period of Atal Behari Vajpayee, when initial enquiry against him started. SC Jamir was in a hurry to show that he is an efficient leader; Sibte Rizvi had been an active youth Congress leader and wanted to get something at the centre. Hans Raj Bhardwaj was an active congressman and nearer to Gandhi family. He has been an irritant to Congress leaders and public at large because of his role in Bofors case. He wanted to be an active politician again by coming near to the power. Bhardwaj’s action shows that he is ignorant of law and ethics, besides being a confused person. His only aim has been to remove the government. He is not even consistent and took even a ‘U’ turn, which flopped.
But interestingly these things did not happen during the tenure of non-Congress Prime Ministers.
One feels ashamed to know that such people, who have no knowledge of law remained as law ministers of India. It reminds me the story of wolf and the lamb where the lamb was killed on lame excuses but here the lamb survived because he managed to know the game plan of Bhardwaj.
The Governor on the directions of his central leadership tried to poke his nose everywhere. First of all he publicly scolded the Chief Minister and then abused ministers. He publicly talked against two ministers and told the Chief Minister to drop them. It is first the reverse of the constitutional provision which stipulates that the Governor can advise, but he cannot publicly scold the ministers or remove them. Interestingly, the former law minister did what was not expected of him. But when his effort failed he managed defection and advised the CM to seek a vote of confidence. He ordered the Speaker to conduct a vote of confidence by allowing the expelled members. He faltered that the Speaker and not Governor is the incharge of House. When there was a rude behaviour during the vote of confidence, the Governor rejected the confidence vote and ordered for imposition of Article 356 and subsequently ordered the CM to get a re-confidence motion. But the CM was not a lamb and he survived the crisis.
The important constitutional issues, which emerged in Karnataka, i.e. pertaining to Governor and Speaker are:
- Which are the specific constitutional powers under which the Governor can publicly speak against the ministers or the government?
- Which is the Constitutional power under which he can order the government to seek a fresh vote of confidence by inviting even disqualified members?
- The Governor recommending a constitutional crisis under Article 356 and recommending Presidential Rule, and after 48 hours changing stand to go for fresh mandate of the House.
- Has such a Governor right to remain in office?
Even after the judgment of a High Court the Congress has taken no action against him.
The role of Hans Raj Bhardwaj shows crumbling of rule of law, ethics and commitment. The role of Congress in protecting Bhardwaj puts it in suspicion. The system of appointing governors, particularly by the Congress, to see that they toe its line puts the Constitution in a weak position. It brings more shame when one sees the role of a law minister as a Governor.
By Dr Ravindra Nath Pal
The writer is former Pro-Vice Chancellor a Punjabi University.