Governors Revolving Door
By Shivaji Sarkar
Public office has a lot to do with perception. Wherein, your actions do the talking. Alas last week in a Constitutional onslaught, the Modi Sarkar turned gubernatorial and political posts into revolving roles which not only highlights India’s open secret but also undermines a Governor’s position and impartiality, a crucial bastion of our democracy. With the devil taking the hindmost!
Unsurprisingly, like its erstwhile predecessor Congress, the BJP has turned the conventions of a Governor always being a Governor on its Constitutional head whereby a Rajyapal relinquishes his office and again returns to active politics. Friday last Mizoram Governor K Rajasekharan did just that, resign his office and is set to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections from home State Kerala where the BJP wants to make a dent.
True, Governor Rajasekharan is correct when he asserts there is no Constitutional or legal bar restraining him from going back to rajniti after serving as Governor of a State. And neither has he violated protocol. In fact, the Justice Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations is spot one when it desired eminent persons being appointed to State Raj Bhawans.
What’s new? Various Congress regimes since the 1970s have eroded gubernatorial impartiality without outwardly violating the letter of the Constitution. Trust them to find a lacuna and brazenly and blatantly exploit it. By merrily taking advantage of the “silence” of our Constitution framers.
Their leader reveled in anointing ‘distingiushed people’ who belonged to six illustrious categories: Defeated netas (from the ruling Party at the Centre), politicians who needed to be ‘retired’ or sent far away from their home State (also from the ruling Party at the Centre) or those whom it perceived as a threat to the High Command, ‘unwanted’ leaders and even trusted lieutenants or retired ‘loyal’ bureaucrats to play ‘I-spy game’ on Opposition-ruled States to the ‘high and august’ Office of a Governor, read be the Centre’s ‘kathputli’, yes-man, chamcha.
Pertinently, Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna was first appointed Maharashtra Governor and later India’s Foreign Minister. Ditto the case with Sushil Shinde who relinquished the Office of Maharashtra Chief Minister in November 2004 and was anointed Andhra Pradesh Governor the same day. Two years later he re-entered active politics a within a few hours and was sworn in as the Congress-led UPA Government’s Cabinet Minister for Power, before taking over as Union Home Minister in 2012.
Sheila Dixit who was three times Delhi Chief Minister became the Kerala Governor after the Congress lost to Kejriwal’s AAP. She resigned her post soon after following her nomination as Congress Chief Ministerial candidate for the UP Assembly elections in 2017. It’s another matter she did not contest and is now the Congress’s Delhi Chief.
What its bête noire did, the BJP could do one better. It rewarded senior and Sangh leaders with gubernatorial posts. SP Malik a career politician is now J&K Governor, Meghalaya Governor V. Shanmuganathan was a RSS prachark who was forced to resign following allegations of sexual harassment and running the Raj Bhawan as a “young ladies club”. Kalyan Singh, former UP Chief Minister is Rajasthan Governor and his erstwhile Cabinet colleague Lalji Tandon is Bihar Governor, KN Tripathi ex-UP Speaker sits in West Bengal’s Raj Bhawan, BR Maurya in Haryana and ex-Petroleum Minister Ram Naik occupies UP.
Worse, the Party went a step ahead and anointed former Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam as Kerala’s Governor. Like it had done ex-CAG TN Chaturvedi, first electing him to the Rajya Sabha and thereafter appointing him Karnataka and Kerala and presently UP Governor.
To be fair to the NDA Government, it is only carrying forward a long established tradition! Recall, ex-CJI Ranganath Mishra accepted Congress nomination to the Rajya Sabha and Justice Baharul Islam-turned-Congress Lok Sabha MP. Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Rama Jois turned-Governor-BJP Rajya Sabha MP and Supreme Court Judge KS Hegde-turned Congress Rajya Sabha MP-turned Janata Party Lok Sabha MP-turned-Speaker.
Yet again, the country’s first woman Supreme Court judge Justice Fatima Beevi was appointed National Human Rights Commission member post retirement in 1992 and in 1997 appointed Tamil Nadu Governor where she was in the eye of a political storm over her decision to anoint late AlADMK supremo Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister in 2001, despite her inability to contest Assembly poll due to her conviction in a corruption case.
I remember a famous 2004 anecdote when Punjab Chief Minister Badal reprimanded former CEC MS Gill for accepting Rajya Sabha MP-ship from the Congress by stating those who held august offices should not contest on Party tickets. Retorted Gill: “Maine koi theka liya sau saal da”.
Underscoring there is a revolving door between the bipartisan role of a Governor and active politics. Predictably, this has tossed out the ‘safety valve’ envisaged by the Constitution makers of who should be appointed Governors, manner of their appointment and their role. During Constituent Assembly debates leaders hoped that eminent individuals, preferably not those directly involved with politics should be appointed to this ‘exalted’ position.
A time when there was a process of consultation between the Union Home Minister and State Chief Minister and his consent taken prior to a Governor’s appointment. Soon this convention was thrown to the winds primarily because the Party that ruled the country wanted to impose Governors, especially in States where its opponents were in power.
Alas, this is par for the course today. Wherein instead of consultation, Chief Ministers are either informed directly or learn through the media. Never mind if it goes against the spirit of the Constitutional intent. In fact, every Government has given short shrift to gubernatorial posts whereby today over 60 per cent of the present lot of Governors are active politicians.
Recall, the Justice Sarkaria and Justice Punchhi reports had recommended certain criterias for anointing Governors namely, he should be eminent in some walk of life, be a person from outside the State, be detached and not intimately connected with local politics of the State and a person who has not participated in politics generally, particularly in the recent past. This was endorsed by the Justice Venkatachaliah National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution.
All regaled to the dustbin. Clearly, we need to find a new method of appointing Governors. Consultation with the State Government might not be enough as some might be supportive of the Central Government. Instead, the Rajya Sabha should screen prospective candidates who should be interrogated, investigated and judged on suitability before confirmation.
The President too should not just act on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers but could lay down guidelines wherein he is not misled about a person’s political affiliations and politics and only those citizens appointed who are politically neutral.
Questionably, can India afford to allow persons holding Constitutional offices to accept political “rewards” for doing at its bidding? No. Ultimately, principles emerge from good practices not bad ones. Good principles recognise Constitutionalism and democracy. Time we restore the office of the Governor to its old glory. This calls for fairness, uprightness and adherence to Constitutional values and conventions.
Our leaders need to rise above politics and appoint neutral non-political Governors not neta-turned rajyapal-turned neta. It is now imperative that Prime Minister Modi who postulates the Constitution also practices what he solemnly preaches! —— INFA