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 continuing acrimony since July 2019 being played out in West Bengal and Delhi between Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and Chief Minister Mamata’s TMC has once again brutally put the Governor’s role under the microscope. In its latest tirade it has accused Governor of appointing relatives as officers on special duty in his personal staff. An allegation Dhankhar denies, instead alleges it’s to divert attention from the “grim and alarming law and order situation” in the State following post-poll violence.
Asserted he, “I’d like to know what the State Administration is doing? Violence is increasing and the State is “plagued with rampant violence….and ego prevails over public service.” In retaliation the TMC has demanded Dhankhar’s dismissal to President Kovind stating that the Governor is not satisfied being in the Raj Bhavan and is interested more in politics. Modiji should field him in an election and make him a Minister.”
Taking another swipe Mamata wrote to Dhankhar asserting, “I had specifically advised you to refrain from surpassing the Chief Minister and Ministers and communicating-dictating to officials in excess of your power under the Constitution and directing them to attend before you….You are ignoring this advice.” Replied Dhankhar, “I am appalled that the Chief Minister should even be contemplating that the Governor has to obtain orders of the Government.”
Certainly, this tu-tu-mein-mein between two Constitutional posts is not the first or the last time. Call it déjà vu, either way Modi NDA’s is no different from National Front VP Singh’s 1989, Vajpayee’s 1999 nor UPA’s 2004-14 all have used, misused and debased the gubernatorial office to further their political agendas and got Governors to do at their bidding, ever ready to destablise the State, if desired by New Delhi. Most have no qualms of conscience in rubbishing it in personal or Party interest, overlooking the Constitution’s letter and spirit.
Expectedly, this new nadir has once again raised questions about a Governor’s role, qualifications and his Constitutional obligations and duties. Raising a moot point: Is he the Centre’s kathputli? Or, the keeper of the people’s faith as the Constitutional head of a State. Importantly, are there any rules to underscore some semblance, coherence and uniformity in gubernatorial actions? A charter of directions and guidelines?
Sadly, in a milieu dictated by opportunism and you-scratch-my-back-and-I-yours, all are past master in manipulating tactics reducing Raj Bhavans as extensions of their Party offices. Instances of Governors interpreting or ‘misinterpreting’ the rule book any 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.
Consequently, a gubernatorial post is no longer decided on whether a person is a man of stature known for his integrity and objectivity, but whether he can be a convenient tool of the Centre, a chamcha. Specially in Opposition-ruled States where he runs the administration by proxy, 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.
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.
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 office and returns to active politics. Instances are many: Mizoram Governor K Rajasekharan quit for active politics in Kerala. Karnataka ex-Chief Minister SM Krishna was appointed Maharashtra Governor and later India’s Foreign Minister. Ditto Sushil Shinde who relinquished Maharashtra Chief Ministership in November 2004 and was anointed Andhra Governor the same day. Two years later he re-entered active politics and within hours was sworn in as Cabinet Minister for Power and later Union Home Minister in 2012.
All seem to have forgotten that a Governor’s true function is not just to represent the Centre but, as the head of the State, to serve his people and fight their battles with the Centre, not vice versa. He has to bear in mind the overall national interest, not partisan Party interests at the Centre and be in tune with his own people.
The Constitution empowers him to influence the decisions of an elected Government by giving him the right “to be consulted, to warn and encourage” His role is overwhelmingly that of a “friend, philosopher and guide” to his Council of Ministers with unrivalled discretion. A lot more than those of the President.
As noted by Sarkaria Commission and endorsed by the Supreme Court, the Governor’s role is that of “a Constitutional sentinel and that of vital link between the Union and the State…Being the holder of an independent Constitutional office, the Governor is not a subordinate or subservient agent of the Union Government.”
Pertinently, the Commission made two weighty recommendations. One, the Governor should be appointed in consultation with the Chief Minister of the State. Two, his tenure of five years should not be disturbed, except in rare circumstances for “extremely compelling reasons”. But these lie buried.
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 in its wake denigrates the Constitution.
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 introspect whether persons with a preference for extra-Constitutionalism and lack of restrain should be appointed or continued as Governors.
West Bengal 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. Our leaders need to rise above politics and set healthy and gracious conventions for high Constitutional offices if our democracy is to be put back on rails. They need to revamp and restore a Governor’s old glory and appoint neutral non-political Governors.
Clearly, the Governor must not be reduced to being a who’s who to who? who? A glorified chaprasi! It is now imperative that Prime Minister Modi who postulates the Constitution also practices what he solemnly preaches. Remember, what matters are not men but institutions. One can tit for an individual but not tat on the State! — INFA