Pointless political conflict

Governor & State Govt

By Dr. S. Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

After Delhi and Puducherry, Tamil Nadu Governor is in the news now for conducting review meetings in district headquarters and engaging directly with the public. Black flag demonstrations and a call to go back greeted Governor Banwarilal Purohit in Thanjavur in the course of his “inspection” tours this week.
Unlike the usual conflict between the State Government and the Governor, protests are spearheaded by some Opposition parties and interest groups mostly of farmers. This time round, the trouble started from the Governor’s programme of holding review meetings in the districts at the Collector’s office to be attended by top administrative and police officials of the district and receiving petitions directly from the people. Cuddalore, Tiruchi, Coimbatore, and Salem districts have already been covered.
It seems to be an uncommon programme for a Governor to personally acquaint himself with field-level details of administration in the State, but not unconstitutional. Such meetings are not concerned with the formation of a State Government, determination of majority in the Legislative Assembly, its dissolution and declaration of President’s rule. Instead, these are related to normal routine matters of governance of the States which are in the domain of State Governments.
Purohit is reported to have reviewed with the officials in the district the implementation of Central and State schemes with stress on the importance of implementing rural-oriented schemes and taking the people’s feedback into account while executing these. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police, Corporation Commissioner, Revenue officials, Chief Educational Officer of the concerned district were among those present in such meetings.
The Governor also visited nearby villages and distributed pamphlets on cleanliness and Swachch Bharat Mission, and also led cleanliness campaigns. Noteworthy is the sudden shift in the substance of criticism normally made against the Governor. The previous incumbent to the post in Tamil Nadu, Vidyasagar Rao was criticised by some political leaders for being away from the State and delaying decisions when critical political situations required his presence and immediate action. The same parties now criticise Purohit for his extraordinary interest to gather first-hand information from officials and the public.
The DMK, the principal Opposition party in the State, takes strong objection to the Governor’s direct involvement in routine administrative matters condemning it as anti-democratic and anti-constitutional. To several Opposition parties — the DMK, VCK, SMK, CPI, etc.— Governor’s action amounts to encroachment on the autonomy of the State.
DMK working President Stalin made a scathing remark that “A goat neither requires a beard nor a State a Governor”. The DMK attributes lot of meaning to the meetings and expresses strong opposition to the possibility of the Governor emerging as an alternate power centre within the State. The very act of Purohit’s “discussions” with bureaucrats in the districts irrespective of the subject or object of the discussions is unacceptable to the DMK, the champion of “State Autonomy”.
Having encountered the bitter experience of losing power after winning a massive electoral victory in 1989 to President’s rule, the DMK has its own reason to believe that the Governor is no longer a “bird in a golden cage” as described by Sarojini Naidu from her experience.
On the contrary, the ruling AIADMK, which presently is not in a position to make any adverse remarks against Centrally-appointed Governor takes it easy and even welcomes it. It tries to justify its stand by expressing a hope that he would convey to the Central Government the needs of the State and recommend more Central assistance.
Between the two sides, Purohit maintains that he has been holding such meetings and reviewing the progress of projects to keep himself informed of the State’s progress as he did in his previous tenure in Assam and Meghalaya. This opens the question of the role of Governor in normal administration of States.
The post of the Governor in the Indian Constitution is a slightly modified version of the Governor created under the Government of India Act 1935 of British India. When the Constitution was framed, unity and integrity of the nation was the foremost concern, and it was found necessary to maintain the authority of the Government of India over the Provinces. It was “in the interest of All-India unity and with a view to encouraging centripetal tendencies”, the Constitution provided for appointment of the Governor by the President.
India was to be united politically as well as by national consciousness. Promoting provincial interests and provincial thinking were considered detrimental to national oneness. Hence, while adopting a federal system, care was taken to maintain and foster certain amount of Central control through several institutions like the All-India services.
The Governor appointed by the President (practically by the Union Government) was expected to act as a link between the Union and State Governments. Supposedly impartial and independent, the Governor became the Union Government’s tool in the States. The tool becoming more and more important for the holder, Constitutional complications arose in the functioning of the Governor, which have been sorted out by the Supreme Court over the years.
The Administrative Reforms Commission appointed in 1966, which submitted its report in mid-1970s held that the “office of the Governor is not meant to be an ornamental sinecure”. The Study Team on Centre-State Relations set up by the Commission recommended that Governors should keep themselves informed about key sectors of public administration in the States so that their fortnightly reports could provide the Union with meaningful information and at the same time give timely advice and warning, if necessary, to the Chief Minister. The Team held that the Governors were perfectly within their rights to send reports fortnightly or ad hoc to the President without any obligation to send copies to the Chief Minister.
The Commission observed that through fortnightly reports, the Governor should keep the Union Government adequately informed of the developments and events in the State and the manner in which the government of the State was being carried on. In making these reports the Governor was to act according to his own judgement, taking the CM into confidence unless there were overriding reasons to the contrary.
However, the role of Governor in State politics becoming more and more controversial in the 1970s and 1980s, there occurred reversal of views. To the Sarkaria Commission on Union-State Relations (1988), the fortnightly report by the Governor to the President was not a “healthy” practice. But, without abolishing it outright, it recommended that while writing the report, the Governor should take into confidence the Chief Minister unless there were overriding reasons against it. The Constitutional Review Committee (2002) broadly concurred with this view.
Governor’s inspection tours today have become necessary for arriving at individual judgement on the implementation of government schemes, which are growing in number. In reporting, he cannot be reproducing the State government’s views. Personal appraisal of progress and development are harmless as long as they are non-political.
The problem lies in the style of functioning of our political parties. They view everything from party angle, which is increasingly reflecting inter-party animosities in the struggle for power and not a desire to promote cooperative action for people’s welfare. —INFA