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Musical Chairs With The Governors

Musical Chairs With The Governors

By Saurabh Gandhi

Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

On 17th June, 2014, Mr. B.L. Joshi, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh resigned from his post. The very next day, his counterpart in Maharashtra, Mr. Sankaranarayanan said, “Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami called me twice during last week asking me to demit office.” If the Economic Times is to be believed, [1] then the governor of Maharashtra wasn’t the only one to have received such a call. A total of seven governors apart from Mr. Sankaranarayanan, including M K Narayanan (West Bengal) , Sheila Dikshit (Kerala), Margaret Alva (Rajasthan), Kamla Beniwal (Gujarat) and Devendra Konwar in Tripura have been suggested to put in their papers. This comes after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) looks well settled in the corridors of power after receiving a massive mandate from India’s electorate.

All the states of India have a nominal head in the form of a Governor. In case of Union Territories, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) plays a similar role. The real executive power lies in the hands of the Chief Minister. The Governors and the LGs are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. Effectively, this implies that the Union Government of the day appoints the governor whenever there is a vacancy, which usually arises in 5 years which is the tenure of a governor.

All the governors named above had been appointed by the erstwhile Indian National Congress (INC) led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its decade-old tenure. Some of these, most notably, Sheila Dixit who till last December was the Chief Minister of Delhi, have been closely associated with the INC and that is the reason why some say, the Modi government is looking at them leaving their posts. This practice of dismissing governors (so to speak) is not net new. In 2004, when the UPA had just snatched power back from the NDA, four governors were removed. The reason allegedly cited was that these governors were affiliated to the Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Overlooking their own track record, the INC targeted the BJP using a 2010 Supreme Court verdict on the removal of governors. The irony here is that the INC is citing that very order of the Supreme Court which had been delivered when a governor, who had been dismissed by them, had challenged it in a court of law. Anyways, let us try and understand what the order was all about. The order said: “A Governor cannot be removed on the grounds that he is out of sync with the policies and ideologies of the Union Government or the party in power at the Centre. Nor can he be removed on the grounds that the Union Government has lost confidence in him. It follows therefore that change in government at the Centre is not a ground for removal of Governors holding office to make way for others favored by the new government”. The verdict also added that a valid reason must exist for the Prime Minister to ask the President to remove a governor, though that reason may not be made public.

Shashi Tharoor, an INC MP from Kerala, has very eloquently written on this issue in an NDTV column, “Why Governors Are in BJP’s Firing Line”. He writes: “But the truth is that this (removal of governors) really isn’t about a conflict of principles or policies at all; it’s really all about jobs — jobs for “our” people rather than “theirs”. Various defeated or superannuated BJP leaders need to be accommodated in comfortable sinecures, and it galls them to see the Congress Party’s favorites enjoying the perks of palatial Raj Bhavans around the country while they languish in semi-retirement, itching to be appointed.[2]

He may well be right. Some names from the BJP are already doing the rounds in the media circles as possible replacements for those who resign. These include Kesri Nath Tripathi, Kalyan Singh, VK Malhotra, CP Thakur, Kailash Chandra Joshi and Balram Das Tandon. But the irony when Tharoor puts forth his argument cannot be missed. In its tenure, the INC had not shied away from appointing politicians from their own party as governors of states.

So what can stop this game of ‘musical chairs with the Governors’ every time a new Union government is sworn in? Tharoor suggests doing away with the post of the governor. This seems practical with virtually no effective responsibility assigned to the governor in the functioning of a state in the constitution. However, there are certain occasions when the post of a governor indeed becomes crucial. One being at the time when President’s rule is imposed in the state (like it is now, in the national capital) and the other being when the election results are announced in a state assembly and no single party has got majority. Then the governor has the tough task of selecting which coalition or party to call to form the government. These circumstances make it difficult to do away with the post of a governor. The better solution would be to set certain guidelines regarding who can be appointed a governor, and laying down the rules regarding the removal of governors in a statute with no loopholes. Political appointees cannot be barred from the post as many of them may actually be deserving of the post; what can be done is that there could be a cool off period of a couple of years after which only a politician can be appointed to the post. This, coupled with clear and precise guidelines with regard to governors’ removal can certainly bring some transparency to the process. Till then, let us sit back and see who gets to sit in his/her chair when the music stops and who has to fall!



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A commerce graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, Gandhi is a politics enthusiast. He has been an intern at Youth-Ki-Awaaz and has a keen interest in current affairs. Innovation in India’s education system and gender equality are issues which are very close to his heart. When not following news, he is either reading or crossing movies off his “To see list”. A self confessed social media addict, Gandhi can be reached on Twitter @saurabhgandhi92. Call him mad and he will love you for the rest of your life.


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