Electoral end game starts

Gubernatorial Rejig

By Poonam I Kaushish

The more things change the more they remain the same. An adage which resonates in the corridors of power when it come to dispensing the rewards of office. Whereby handpicked trusted loyalists are appointed as Governors who will do whatever their mai baaps sitting on India’s Raj gaddi want.

The latest in this rajnitik ring-a-ring-a-roses, the President appointed appoints 6 new Governors, and reshuffled 7 others of which Meghalaya and Nagaland are election-bound States. Clearly the rejig  marks the beginning of a long electoral season which will see 9 Assembly polls this year Besides, it comes at a time of friction between some State Governments and Governors.

Of the 6 new appointees four are senior BJP leaders and one, a former Supreme Court judge. Justice Nazeer who retired a month back has been part of several milestone verdicts including the politically sensitive Ayodhya land dispute, triple talaq, legality of demonetisation and right to privacy. He heads to Andhra Pradesh.

Predictably, his appointment has created a huge controversy. The Congress is correct when it replays former senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley argument in Rajya Sabha 2012, “pre-retirement judgments are influenced by post-retirement jobs…It is a threat to independence of the judiciary.” Of course, this is not to discredit Justice Nazeer’s credentials but as a practice should be avoided.

The BJP counters by citing Supreme Court judges Fatima Beevi was Tamil Nadu Governor 1997-2001 and Saiyid Fazl Ali  Assam Governor 1956-59 both by Congress. The Government had also ruffled Opposition feathers when it appointed ex-Chief Justice of India Sathasivam Kerala Governor 2014 and nominated former Chief Justice of India Rajan Gogoi who headed the Ayodhya bench to the Rajya Sabha.

I remember a famous 2004 anecdote when Punjab Chief Minister Badal reprimanded former CEC MS Gill for accepting Rajya Sabha MP-ship from Congress. Retorted Gill: “Maine koi theka liya sau saal da”.

Focus will also be on new Assam Governor current leader of Opposition in Rajasthan Assembly Kataria as it paves the way for the Party to overhaul, announce a new leadership in its State unit and resolve internal factionalism. It remains to be seen if BJP decides to implement its Gujarat election strategy of nudging older leaders to retire while dropping a chunk of sitting legislators. The election of the next leader of Opposition will show which way the wind is blowing.

The shift from Jharkhand to Maharashtra of Ramesh Bais will also be watched closely as it marks the end of Koshyari who had multiple run-ins with the erstwhile MVA Government alongside his controversial Shivaji.comments. No matter Bais leaves unresolved a simmering row of the Election Commission’s recommendation on disqualification demands of Chief Minister Hemant Soren over a mining contract. Ladakh’s new Lt Governor BD Mistra comes amidst civil society protests.

Pertinently, the appointees have also been chosen to keep the caste balance intact. Two new appointees from UP ex-Union Minister Shukla a senior Brahmin leader goes to Himachal while compatriot Lakshman Acharya UP BJP Vice President and Varanasi MLC from the Scheduled Caste heads to Sikkim. Maha Backward Caste Fagu Chauhan shifts from Bihar to Meghalaya while upper caste Bhumihar Manoj Sinha is ensconced in Kashmir.

Raising a moot point: Are Governors intended to be the Centre’s doormats? Or are they the keepers of the people’s faith as the Constitutional head of their respective States? 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. All seem to have forgotten Sarkaria Commission’s two weighty recommendations. One, the Governor should be appointed in consultation with the State’s Chief Minister.

Two, his five-year tenure should not be disturbed, except in rare circumstances for “extremely compelling reasons”.  Basing it on the premise Governor is a “Constitutional sentinel and vital link between Union and State, not a subordinate or subservient agent of the Union Government”. This was endorsed by Justice Venkatachaliah National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. All regaled to the dustbin.

Tragically, the prism of time has distorted Governor role whereby successive Central Governments have used, abused and debased this office by reducing Governors to the position of the Centre’s kathputli, 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.

Moreover, there is a revolving door between the bipartisan role of Governor and active politics. 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. Leaders hoped eminent individuals, preferably not those directly involved with politics should be appointed to this ‘exalted’ position

Plainly even as the institution is sacrosanct and important, truth is Governor’s office is in shambles and is no longer playing its key role as. The quality of incumbents has time and again lowered institutional prestige. Worse, the gubernatorial office has been unabashedly politicized over the past three decades.

What next? Sadly, all lament decline of the Governor’s 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. High time for it to be revamped and restored to its old glory as he/she has a distinct role in ensuring the country’s unity and well-being of people.   Governors need to remember that democracy means respecting the Constitution and upholding established conventions

Undoubtedly, we need a new method of appointing Governors. One way is 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.

Undeniably, all eyes are on what role these seasoned politicians who now adorn gubernatorial hats will play prior to general elections next year and upcoming State polls. True, politics is important but so is governance. It will be the Governors duty to ensure that as the electoral heat rises, the latter does not recede into the background.

Public office has a lot to do with perception. Thus, it is time to rise above politics, provide dignity to this august office and restore Governor’s office to its old glory. This calls for fairness, uprightness and adherence to Constitutional values and conventions.

It is now imperative leaders and Parties who postulates the Constitution must also be perceived as practicing what they solemnly preaches. The Governor must not be reduced to the level of a glorified doormat or a who’s who to who? who? Remember, what matters are not men but institutions —  INFA