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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2039

The Dilemma Over Governors

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

In the season of political controversies the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, made ample contribution by first advancing the winter session of the state assembly by nearly a month (from January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015) without consulting the chief minister and then permitting a bizarre spectacle of legislators holding a two-day ‘session’ in a community hall and a hotel.

What happened in the makeshift ‘assembly’ was no less odd. A new ‘chief minister’ was elected—Kalikho Pul, a rebel Congress member. Those who attended it removed the Speaker Nabam Rebia, through a motion and also passed a no-confidence motion against the chief minister, Nabam Tuki. The ostensible reason for holding a ‘session’ outside the legislative building was that it had been sealed by the government.

While Rajkhowa defends his decision, citing the powers vested in him in the Constitution, the beleaguered chief minister has, as expected, taken the opposite view. The Gauhati high court has stayed the governor’s order till February 1, 2016.

It is said that never before in the history of free India the legislators had held a session anywhere else than the designated legislative assembly chamber. A constitutionally valid meeting of the legislators can be held outside the designated building only in case it is under repairs or there is a serious threat perception.

After the Congress rebels received support of the Governor in ousting the chief minister, the Congress branded the Governor as an agent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Other Opposition parties joined the Grand Old party (GOP) in asking for the resignation of Rajkhowa. Developments in Arunachal Pradesh became another factor to disrupt proceedings in Parliament, already derailed for multiple reasons, for two days in a row.

It is not difficult to see why many think that the happenings in Itanagar did smack of a plan to install a BJP government in the state. The BJP has for long pined for a foothold in the North-east. In its present mood of triumphalism it will have a greater urge to install a BJP government in a North-eastern state as part of its agenda to have a Congress-free India.

If the decline in Congress fortunes in Arunachal Pradesh is accompanied by the rise of the BJP in the state it may be a helpful factor in the BJP drive to grab power in Assam through the fairer means of the ballot box rather than Raj Bhavan.

It is possible that Arunachal be put under President’s Rule for a few months as a prelude to the dissolution of the state assembly followed by polls. The BJP will have sufficient time to fight a battle that it would hope to win.

Rajkhowa, till his appointment at Itanagar Raj Bhavan was closely associated with the BJP. As for his resignation, the demand from the Congress only invited some snide comments because during its long rule at the Centre there were many instances when it was accused of using the office of Governor to destablise states ruled by non-Congress parties.

But this is not to defend Rajkhowa for paying the Congress back in the same coin. A helpful Rajkhowa enabled 20 Congress rebel legislators in Arunachal Pradesh (along with 11 BJP members and two Independents) to claim that the Congress government in the state was in a minority in the 60-member assembly. The Congress rebels maintain that all they want is a new chief minister of their choice.

What happened in Itanagar brings back focus on the office of the Governor. There are two clear views: for retaining it and for abolishing it because it is seen as a colonial hangover.

After all, the Governorship is more about pomp and show attached to the office than running the day to day affairs of the state which is the job of the executive head (chief minister). Those who oppose the abolition of the post say that the states in India need a checks-and-balance institution to curb any ‘undemocratic’ act by the incumbent government.

This argument makes sense, except that in reality the Governors tend to act as proxies of the party in power at the Centre. The ‘political appointees’ fit into this dubious role easily because most of the Governors have been active politicians. Some have been bureaucrats or officers in the services and had a good rapport with politicians. They had no problem in furthering the interest of their appointees in toppling duly elected governments.

The history of Governors ‘misusing’ their authority goes back to 1959 when an elected (Communist) government in Kerala was dismissed. But the ‘misuse’ became quite frequent and brazen after 1967 when the Congress under Indira Gandhi started to lose its grip over the states.

The non-Congress parties have been loud and vocal in their condemnation of the ‘misuse’ of the office of Governor. But in 1977, when the Congress was for the first time rejected by the electorate, the Janata party led by Gandhian Morarji Desai lost no time in installing its own nominees as Governors. This practice was continued when other non-Congress combinations came to power in Delhi.

The BJP-led NDA government was widely criticized when it unsettled the Governors appointed by the previous UPA government, although the actions of some of them had also invited criticism. A particularly unsavoury episode witnessed soon after Narendra Modi came to power was the manner in which 87-yerar- old Kamla Beniwal, Modi’s bête noir, was shunted from the Raj Bhavan at Gandhinagar to Mizoram as though that North-eastern state is India’s Gulag.

The BJP defended its decision to throw out the UPA-appointed Governors after it had received a massive mandate from the people in the Lok Sabha polls. It will certainly not accept the same argument from other parties.

There have been suggestions, from the Sarkaria Commission and others that a Governor should not be picked up from among those who have been active in politics or recently retired bureaucrats. The active politicians turned Governors will always be suspected to be partisan and biased. On the other hand, an ‘eminent’ person may be less liable to act as subservient to the government at the Centre. It is time a call was taken to reconsider the practice of appointing Governors on the basis of their ‘loyalty’ to the party in power.

- Asian Tribune -

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