Governors and Governance

I Satya Sundaram

Of late, the role of the Governors has become polemical as their appointments are purely political. Most Governors act as agents of the Centre. What is surprising is that this issue is not taken up seriously. The Governors seldom act as the guardians of the constitution. At present, they are appointed, taking into account their loyalty to the party in power at the Centre.

The Governor is entrusted with some important functions—appointing ministers, summoning the legislatures, assenting the Bills, and calling for President’s rule. He also decides, in a crisis situation, which party should get the right to form the Government.

Strangely, no serious discussion took place on the true role of the Governor. Although Article 154(1) of the constitution vests in the Governor the executive power of the State, he is required to exercise that power in accordance with the constitution. Thus, the Governor can act only on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.

The constitution makers never thought of empowering the Governor to deal with a difficult situation. Ambedkar lamented in the Constituent Assembly: “The Governor under the constitution has no functions which he can discharge by himself: no functions at all.”

The Sarkaria Commission too expressed the position of the Governor thus: “It is a well recognised principle that so long as the Council of Ministers enjoys (the) confidence of the Assembly its advice in these matters, unless patently unconstitutional, must be deemed as binding on the Governor.”

In a few cases, the Centre (the party in power) used the office of the Governor to topple the State Governments, paving the way for fresh elections. It happened in the case of undivided Andhra Pradesh. When N T Rama Rao was the Chief Minister, Indira Gandhi used Governor Ram Lal to topple the Government. Of course, the move boomeranged.

A staid blemish of Governor’s role is that he reads out the Address prepared by the State Government. Is this the role assigned to the Governor by the constitution? If the Governor alters some paragraphs, his move is described as undemocratic by the Government!

Pending Bills is another problem. The State leadership believes some Bills are pending with the Governor purely for political reasons. The Telangana Government is worried about this. It brought this to the notice of the President of India, and the Centre. The “war” between the Chief Minister and the Governor is going on in Telangana. Of course, if the legislature again passes the Bill without accepting any of the amendments suggested by the Governor, he/she is constitutionally bound to give assent to the Bill. However, no time limit is mentioned for the return of the Bill.

In a Southern State, the ruling party activists damage the properties of the opposition leaders. The police are silent spectators. They even arrest the activists of the opposition parties, even when the newspapers carry news with photos. Even when there is a law and order problem, the Governor is silent. Of Course, the High Court did take them seriously. The point is, the High Court is burdened with too many cases. If the Governor interferes, the situation would improve.

The sad truth is that today’s Governors are beholden to the Centre. One may not argue for the abolition of the institution of Governor. However, the practice of appointing the very old (above 80 years) as Governors should go. Generally, the Governor should be a top intellectual whose duty is to safeguard the Constitution and ensure good governance. Surely, the Governor can muzzle the misdemeanours of the State government.

There are constitution experts who can define the true role of the Governor. It has been said: “As the constitutional head of the State, there are innumerable concerns, particularly the Directive Principles of State Policy that could be the frame of conversation of the Governor with his Government. Such a conversation, however, needs to be in the form of an engagement with his Government and the State legislative rather than harping on constitutional status.” (Valerian Rodrigues: “Changing Politics, Incompatible Governors,” The Hindu, January 23, 2023).

Through their appointments and removals, the Governors must be made accountable to the Union, the State and the Rajya Sabha (Lalith Panda: “Remove Raj from Raj Bhavans,” The Times of India, January 13, 2023).

When the ruling party enjoys absolute majority, the State Government may indulge in fiscal profligacy for publicity, keeping in view the next elections. Should there be no check on such counter-productive moves? If the State Government is most corrupt, should the people suffer in silence till the next elections? Why the Governor should be deprived of showing his strength and sagacity?

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Vol 55, No. 47, May 21 - 27, 2023