Raj Bhavan: Parking Place for Castaways of Political Parties

By Anil Dhir

(This article was first written in early 2014, just before the big change in the governors happened)

The Constitution of India mandates that any Indian citizen over 35 can be made a Governor. Article 163 of the Constitution further says that “there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head to aid and advice the Governor in the discharge of his functions…”

If we examine the recent appointments and the present incumbent Governors in the different States in light of this Article of the Constitution, serious questions arise regarding their role and importance. The Governors position is one where political judgments often need to be made. This important constitutional post has become the resting place of have been yes men who are close to the ruling dispensation. Burdensome and ailing political leaders and politicians who have to be abandoned for their inefficiencies, are bid good riddance and appointed as Governors. Such political games in the selection and appointment of Governors have sadly become the order of the day, across the entire spectrum of political parties.

This indeed is a very unhealthy trend. It compels the incumbent to remain beholden to the political party that has favored his selection for the coveted post. In such circumstances, it appears doubtful as to how a Governor can display impartiality and fairness in discharging his duties. The rising trend of Chief Ministers who are complaining about the Governor’s office in the state is an indicator of the offshoot of this misuse. The increasingly fraught relationship between governors and chief ministers can upset the fine balance of power in India’s federal structure. Governors are appointed directly by the President. The president in turn, according to the Constitution, acts on the advice of the council of ministers headed by the Prime minister. In effect, therefore, governors are appointed by the central government.

Governorship should not be considered as an extension of party politics. Misuse of the institution of the Governor has created a deep suspicion and distrust in the federal structure and affected centre-state relationships. The framers of the Constitution were quite conscious of the possibility of Centre-State conflicts, so the powers and jurisdiction of each have been carefully defined and demarcated. It has been provided for that the state governments have to comply with the laws enacted by Parliament. The Governor is there to watch the interests of the Centre. His job is to check arbitrariness of the council of ministers and administrative machinery of the state.

In their colonial hangover, the framers of the Indian constitution invented the role of state governor to act as a conduit between the ceremonial head of state (the president) and the chief minister of each state. As the president’s eyes and ears in the country’s diverse and far-flung states, governors at first played a useful role. They were mostly apolitical. Presidents of the caliber of Rajendra Prasad and S Radhakrishnan ensured that the young fissiparous democracy of India was kept glued together by not only the checks and balances written into the Constitution, but the wisdom of its apolitical presidents and governors.

The decline in standards began during Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership when the office of president was regularly misused. In June 1975, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, instead of opposing the prime minister’s advice to proclaim the draconian Emergency, rubber-stamped it. As politics became more partisan, so did presidents and governors. The rot percolated down from the top.

How do we fix what is now a systemic problem? The solution lies in the rules framed to appoint governors. An amendment to articles 155 and 158 of the Constitution should mandate that a governor must not have held political office for at least five years before being appointed and be barred from holding public office permanently after demitting his gubernatorial post. This single amendment will transform the quality of interaction between elected chief ministers and selected governors.

The 1,600-page Sarkaria commission report submitted to the government in 1988 had recommended watered down strictures on the eligibility of a governor who had held prior political office. Even this diluted recommendation was never implemented. The recommendations of the Venkatachaliah commission report (2002) and the Punchhi commission report (2010), which dealt with Centre-state relations, the role of governors and the importance of the Inter-State Council to resolve disputes, have been similarly ignored by successive governments.

The first president of India, Rajendra Prasad, had warned: “It is necessary that the people of a State should have full confidence in a supreme non-partisan institution like that of Governor.” Amending the constitutional provision under which governors are appointed will restore non-partisanship to our federal polity. Additionally, distinguished leaders from the judiciary, law, business and academia – rather than politicians seeking pasture or rehabilitation – should be considered for appointment to state Raj Bhavans.

The Punchhi Commission in 2010 agreed with the 1988 Sarkaria Commission that governors be appointed from among eminent people in different walks of life and that they should not be from the state they are posted in.

The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution added Article 356 to the Constitution to make the Centre exceedingly powerful so that its will could be imposed upon the ill will of any regional leader. However this has been often misused to fulfill political purposes. In its report submitted to the Union Government on October 27, 1987, the Sarkaria Commission focused upon the role of the Governor and gave the following recommendations on the appointment of the Governor.

a) He should be a man of some eminence in some field.
b) He should not belong to the State where he has to serve as the Governor.
c) He should be a detached figure with little record of participation in the local politics of the State.
d) He should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, particularly in the recent past.
e) Preference should continue to be given to the minority groups as hitherto.
f) It is desirable that a politician from the ruling party at the Centre should not be made the Governor of a State run by another party or a coalition of parties.
g) Article 155 of the Constitution should be suitably amended to ensure effective consultation with the Chief Minister of a State while appointing a Governor in that State.
h) The Vice-President of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha should also be consulted while making this appointment though this consultation should be ‘confidential’, ‘informal’ and not a matter of constitutional obligations.

In the recent past Indian polity has seen a sea change in the nature of the multi party system. This shift from one-party dominance to a multi-party system has made political institutions more democratized. This process of democratization is also making its impact upon the role of the Governor. As the multiparty system has replaced one-party dominance; the party which is in the power, cannot afford to use the Governor as its instrument.

The pomp and splendor of the Raj Bhavans cost the exchequer a tidy amounT, and the person occupying it is seen as the Grand Mughal. There should be a gross reduction in the expenses of Governors. While the dignity and status of the Governor have to be maintained, the Colonial pattern of pageantry has to be severely cut down. The maintenance of expensive establishments at different places for the seasonal stay of the Governors, the expenditure over addresses of welcome, and all kinds of traditional customs have to be curtailed.

The post of the Governor should not be an avenue for the party in power to favour its own party men. The dignity and honour of the Head of the State can be retained only when persons of high character, great mental calibre and meritorious service are appointed. The Governor’s post should not be converted into a coveted job for party men or an asylum for those defeated in elections. It should be occupied by those who have earned a name for integrity and public service.

Anil Dhir is an archaeology researcher. He is associated with INTACH and the chief project coordinator of INTACH Jagannath Sadak Project. He is also working as the National Secretary, Bharat Raksha Manch, Odisha.


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