By Poonam I Kaushish
Whoever said different political strokes for different political folks was dead on. Specially when it comes to the high Constitutional office of the Governor. Wherein handpicked loyalists do whatever their mai baaps sitting on India’s Raj gaddi want. Governance, after all is one big nautanki which has rewritten the basic time-honoured rules of authority and turned democracy on its head. Bend them, break them, who cares!
Alas, the charade played out in Karnataka between Governor Vala, BJP and Congress-JD(S) combine once again brutally exposed two reprehensible facets of our rulers’ democratic temper. At the political level, governance is shamelessly all about cutting deals, side deals and underhand deals. At the Constitutional level, the happenings in Bengaluru have once again put the Governor’s role under the microscope.
The grimy tale has its genesis in the Governor calling the BJP which emerged as the single largest Party with 104 MLAs, though short of a simple majority by 8 legislators to form the Government giving it 15 days to prove its majority. Predictably, the Congress with 78 and JD(S) 38 totalling 116 MLAs in a post-poll alliance cried foul and moved the Supreme Court which gave the BJP 24 hours to prove its majority in the Assembly.
The issue is not that BJP Chief Minister Yeddyurappa did a Vajpayee and resigned before the trust vote as he was unable to muster a majority of 112 in a 224 Assembly. Or that the Congress-JD(S) came up trumps. Either way it has dealt a body blow to the Governor’s role in the sordid drama.
The Congress-JD(S) accused Governor Vala of acting contrary to what his compatriots in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya did by insuring the BJP, though not the single largest Party formed the Government after cobbling a post-poll alliance with regional outfits recently. In fact, the Supreme Court upheld the Goa Raj Bhawan’s decision.
Alas, in this high drama the first casualty is Governor Vala who was blamed for being a kathputli of his political mai baaps in Delhi and overlooking the letter and spirit of the Constitution. True, he is an old RSS hand who was also Modi’s Finance Minister in Gujarat. Yet, as Governor he should realize his is a Constitutional position and role and should be guided by recent conventions and not be ‘His Master’s Voice.’ Moreover, he needs to weigh public probity and public interest more than political expediency.
Raising a moot point: What is the role of a Governor, his qualifications and Constitutional obligations and duties? Is he the Centre’s chaprasi? Or, the keeper of the people’s faith as the Constitutional head of a State. Will ideologies be the touchstones for matters of a Constitutional nature? Importantly, are there any rules to underscore some semblance, coherence and uniformity in gubernatorial actions? A charter of directions and guidelines?
Of course, this is not the first time that the Governor’s role has come under the scanner. Be it the BJP, Congress, Janata Party, NDA-UPA-Third Front all have misused their powers when at the Centre to topple uncomfortable or Opposition-ruled State Governments to further their political agendas by using, abusing and debasing the gubernatorial office. No wonder, Article 356 has been imposed more than 120 times in various States, at the whims and fancies of the Centre. But when they get hit all cry foul. A classic case of the pot calling the kettle black!
Sadly, in a milieu of you scratch my back and I yours, over 60% of present Governors are active politicians, Saffron Sangh cahoots or ‘pliable’ bureaucrats etc. The essential criteria for a Governor’s selection is no longer whether he is a man of stature, known for his integrity and objectivity, but is he a yes-man, a chamcha.
He runs the administration by proxy. By playing the I-spy game — petty politicking, gross interference, open partisanship at the Centre’s behest, sending for files, summoning Ministers and babus. To hear, entice, provoke and register the voice of dissent against the State Government to his political patrons in Delhi. Bluntly, make life hell for the Chief Minister at every step along-with vision of personal grandeur and use it as a springboard to return to active politics.
Instances are aplenty. Meghalaya 2008, Karnataka 2007, 2011, Goa, Bihar and Jharkhand 2005. The common denominator? Each Governor interpreting or should one say misinterpreting the rule book any which way he wants, drawing his own conclusions based more often than not on delusions as long as he and his benefactors at the Centre could rule the roost. What to speak of 1971-81 during which in all 27 State Governments were dismissed by mis-utilizing the Governor’s office. By 1983 President’s Rule was imposed 70 times.
To curtail the Governor from playing politics in the Chief Ministerial stakes, the Justice Venkatachaliah National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution wanted the Chief Minister to be directly elected by the Assembly to obviate the need to test majorities in the Raj Bhawan. It opined this would combat the growing menace of horse-trading (sic.).
Pertinently, the Sarkaria Commission noted the Governor’s role was that of “a Constitutional sentinel and vital link between the Union and the State…Being the holder of an independent Constitutional office, the Governor was not a subordinate or subservient agent of the Union Government.” It also suggested he be appointed in consultation with the State Chief Minister. This was endorsed by the Supreme Court.
Experts affirm the Governor’s role is to represent the Centre, serve his people and fight their battles with the Central Government, not vice versa. His role is overwhelmingly that of a “friend, philosopher and guide” to his Council of Ministers with unrivalled discretion. He has to bear in mind overall national interest, not partisan Party benefits. The Constitution empowers him to influence decisions of his Government by giving him the right “to be consulted, warn and encourage”
What next? Sadly, all lament the decline of the Governor office but continue to misuse and abuse it for personal and Party ends. Not only does it generate bad blood between Lilliputian politicians but denigrates the Constitution.
Clearly, Karnataka is a lesson on the dangers of appointing political hatchet men to high offices which calls for fairness, uprightness and adherence to Constitutional values and conventions. We need to cry a halt to the growing depravity. The Governor’s office needs to be revamped and restored to its old glory. Remember, what matters are not men but institutions. One can tit for an individual but not tat on the State. If all fails, abolish the office.
Governors need to remember that democracy means respecting the Constitution and upholding established conventions along-with realizing the essence of Constitutionalism is restraint and not confrontation. Time to seriously introspect whether persons with a preference for extra-Constitutionalism and lack of restrain should be appointed or continued as Governors.
Time now to rise above politics and set healthy and gracious conventions for high Constitutional offices if our democracy is to be put back on rails. We need to appoint neutral non-political Governors. As long as the Centre continues to play partisan politics, India and its unity will be greatly hurt. The Governor must not be reduced to being a who’s who to who? who? A glorified chaprasi! It is now imperative that the Prime Minister who postulates the Constitution also practices what he solemnly preaches! —– INFA