Debating India

GOVERNMENT

The first `mass dismissal’

Friday 30 July 2004, by VENKATESAN*V.

THE recent dismissal of four Governors is the fourth instance when a government at the Centre decided to curtail the tenure of Governors by withdrawing the President’s pleasure. However, it is the first time when a "mass dismissal" of Governors has taken place.

The first dismissal of a Governor was in October 1980, when Tamil Nadu Governor Prabhudas Patwari, an appointee of the Janata Party government, was shown the door by the Indira Gandhi government. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not give Patwari, known as a Gandhian in the Raj Bhavan, the option to resign. The dismissal of Patwari without any valid reason was an instance of political abuse of Article 156(1) of the Constitution, which states that a Governor "shall hold office during the pleasure of the President".

In August 1981, Rajasthan Governor Raghukul Tilak was removed from office under similar circumstances by the Indira Gandhi government. Tilak challenged his dismissal in the Rajasthan High Court. The High Court rejected his petition, saying the pleasure of the President in this matter was not justiciable.

These dismissals are different from `forced resignations’ of Governors, of which there are several examples. According to the Sarkaria Commission, of the 66 gubernatorial tenures between 1947 and March 31, 1967, 32 lasted the full term. Of the 88 tenures from April 1, 1967 to October 31, 1986, only 18 lasted for five years. Although allowances must be made for illnesses, deaths in office, transfers and voluntary resignations, the Commission noted that during the latter period, in contrast to the former period, premature exits from office occurred at a much faster rate and fewer Governors completed their normal terms of office.

In 1989, when V.P. Singh came to power, his government, through the President’s office, secured the resignations of all Governors, so that it could accept only those it wanted to. The then Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, urged for a convention that when a new government took over at the Centre, the Governors should resign on their own to enable the government to appoint those who enjoyed its confidence. However, this created a piquant situation with the government taking its own time to decide which resignations it should accept and who should be sent to which State as a replacement. As a result, many Governors did not relish the idea of continuing in office as `lame duck’ Governors and some insisted on quitting the office immediately after sending their letters of resignation. However, the idea of mass resignations of Governors after every change of government at the Centre was not endorsed by the political class.

In 1998, the BJP-led coalition government came to power at the Centre and secured the resignations of Gujarat Governor Krishna Pal Singh, Goa Governor T.R. Satish Chandra, Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari, Mizoram Governor A.P. Mukherjee and the Lieutenant Governors of the Union Territories of Delhi, Andoman and Nicobar, and Pondicherry. In July 2001, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government dismissed Tamil Nadu Governor M. Fathima Beevi. In fact, she was a scapegoat in the tug-of-war between Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi. (The DMK was then a constituent of the NDA.)

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