Governor Centre’s Stooge
By Poonam I Kaushish
“Agar Dilli ki taraf dekhta to Lone ki sarkaar banti or mai itihaas mein ek baimaan aadmi ke taur pe jana jata, isliye maine ye kadam (dissolved the Assembly) uthaya, ab ye jo gaali denge denge, lekin mai convince hu maine sahi kiya,” asserted J&K Governor Satyapal Malik. (Had I looked at Delhi I would have had to call Sajjad Lone to form the Government. But I did not want to go down in the history as a dishonest man. I don’t bother about the abuses now).
This is not all. Next day he went a step further: “Apne aap mein pata nahi kab tabadla ho jaye. Naukri toh nahi jayegi, tabadley ka khatra rehta hai.” (I don’t know when I will be transferred. I will not lose my job but the threat of transfer is there.) Undoubtedly, he has earned a place in history: Of letting the cat out of the bag by unravelling political India’s best known secret, the Governor is the Centre’s stooge to do at the bidding of his political masters!
By choosing to play straight Malik left none in doubt that the Centre wanted him to install Sajjad Lone’s 2 MLA strong People’s Conference who claimed support of BJP’s 26 along-with “more than 18 other lawmakers”, after Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP with 28 MLAs allied with Abdullah NC’s 15 and Rahul’s 12 MLAs Congress totaling 56 staked claim to form a Government in a 87 member Assembly. A repeat of Karnataka in May, Meghalaya in March, Goa and Manipur last year wherein the Centre’s handpicked Governors installed BJP Governments despite the Party not having a majority.
But why blame the BJP alone? In a milieu dictated by opportunism, the Congress too is a past master in manipulating tactics reducing the Raj Bhavans as extension of its Party office. Instances of Governors ‘misinterpreting’ the rule book any which way he wants, drawing his own conclusions based more often than not, on delusions so that he and his mai-baaps at the Centre could rule the roost are aplenty. Meghalaya 2008, Karnataka 2007, 2011, Goa, Bihar and Jharkhand 2005. 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.
Tragically, successive Governments comprising regional Parties like the United Front, Janata Party, Third Front have used, abused and debased this high office by making a Governor a trumpet and even a “chaprasi” of the Centre to topple uncomfortable or Opposition-ruled State Governments to further their political agendas. 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!
Something the Constitutional framers had neither envisaged nor imagined. Today, the essential criteria for the selection of a Governor is no longer whether he is a man of stature known for his integrity and objectivity but whether he is a ‘yes’ man, a chamcha who will scratch your back and you his.
Bringing things to such a pass that over 60 per cent of the present lot of Governors are active politicians and the rest ‘pliable’ bureaucrats, police officers and Army Generals. Moreover, it has become the perfect lollypop for political castaways, parting gifts for subservient intelligentsia and convenient posts for inconvenient rivals. Underscoring, the Governor has become a convenient tool of the Centre, specially in Opposition-ruled States.
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! Call it déjà vu or Et tu NDA Modi’s NDA’s is no different from National Front VP Singh’s 1989, Vajpayee’s 1999 nor UPA’s 2004 who got Governors appointed by their predecessors to resign.
Since 2014 nine Governors have resigned, Kerala’s Sheila Dikshit, Maharashtra’s Sankarnarayana, W Bengal’s Narayanan, UP’s Joshi, Pudicherry’s Kataria, Goa’s Wanchoo, Nagaland’s Ashwani Kumar, Chhattisgarh’s Shekhar Dutt and Mizoram’s Purushothaman. Notwithstanding, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling which laid down that a change of Government at the Centre was not a ground to remove Governors, even if they were out of sync with the policies and political ideologies of the Party in power.
He runs the administration by proxy. By playing the I-spy game — petty politricking, gross interference, open partisanship —at the Centre’s behest. Sending for files, summoning Ministers and bureaucrats. 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 and use it as a springboard to return to active politics.
To curtail the Governor from playing politics in the Chief Ministerial stakes, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by Justice Venkatachaliah, advocated significant changes. It wanted the Chief Minister to be directly elected by the Assembly to obviate the need to test majorities in the Raj Bhawan. The Commission was of the opinion that 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? Malik has shown the way of what is expected of a Governor which calls for fairness, uprightness and adherence to Constitutional obligations, values and duties. Yes, he might have been a Party man but once appointed behaved according to what behooves his position of Governor and adherence to Constitutional values. He saw through the perceived mirage of stability, likelihood of extensive horse trading and possible exchange of money to install a Government and dissolved the Assembly.
Will he be the exception to the rule? It is too early to say. Like he confessed, he could be transferred. Malik’s counterparts 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.
All in all, time to rise above politics and appoint neutral non-political Governors and set healthy and gracious conventions for high Constitutional offices. Remember, what matters are not men but institutions. One can tit for an individual but not tat on the State. — INFA