Debating India


Marching orders

Friday 30 July 2004, by VENKATESAN*V.

The Opposition’s criticism of the Centre’s dismissal of four Governors lacks credibility in the light of past experiences and its own track record.

in New Delhi

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Goa: Kidar Nath Sahani.

THE United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre dismissed the Governors of Haryana, Goa, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh on July 2 after failing to secure their resignations through informal advice. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, following the advice of the Union Council of Ministers, directed that the four Governors would cease to hold office. The President’s action was based on Article 156(1) of the Constitution, which specifies that the Governor shall hold office during the pleasure of the President. On July 5, the government announced the appointment of new Governors - A.R. Kidwai in Haryana, Nawal Kishore Sharma in Gujarat, T.V. Rajeshwar in Uttar Pradesh and S.C. Jamir in Goa.

The removal of the Governors, Babu Parmanand (Haryana), Kidar Nath Sahani (Goa), Kailashpati Mishra (Gujarat) and Vishnu Kant Shastri (Uttar Pradesh), before the expiry of their five-year tenure in office has created a controversy, with the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party questioning the motives of the government’s decision. The BJP criticised the move as "unconstitutional" and as one aimed "against the federal structure".

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Haryana: Babu Parmanand.

However, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil denied any ill will towards the four Governors. He attributed their removal to their ideology, past actions, and an assessment of a situation the government anticipated. He added that the government removed them particularly because it thought it could not get along with them. "We took precautionary measures when we felt there could be a problem," Shivraj Patil said. Earlier, Union Minister of State for Home Prakash Jaiswal said that the UPA government did not have problems with all the Governors appointed by the previous regime, but only with those who had a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) background.

Importantly, the government did not dismiss Rajasthan Governor Madan Lal Khurana, who had been in the thick of Delhi politics before his appointment to the post and who does not conceal his association with the RSS. Similarly, the government did not remove Bihar Governor Rama Jois, who had once been counsel for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the Ayodhya case before the Supreme Court. Both Khurana and Jois have been informed that if there is a conflict of interest between their ideological and political backgrounds and the discharge of their gubernatorial responsibilities as seen by the Centre, they could face the same fate as the four others. The government, apparently, did not find any problem in the continuance of Karnataka Governor T.N. Chaturvedi, a former Rajya Sabha member of the BJP and civil servant.

Although the government did not give cogent reasons for the removal of each of the four Governors, they were indeed obvious. The government also probably thought that stating the reasons in public would have meant betraying any ill will towards them. Jaiswal might perhaps be correct in saying that the RSS background of some Governors was a problem for the government, but it was not an important factor in their dismissal.

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Uttar Pradesh: Vishnu Kant Shastri.

For instance, former Haryana Governor Babu Parmanand did not belong to the RSS. He was a former Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and was with the National Conference before shifting to the BJP. Yet he was dismissed because the government was not satisfied with his conduct during the prelude to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when at a public meeting at Rewari, he reportedly appealed to the people to support Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bid for another term. President Kalam had sought an explanation from him then but deferred action, pending the formation of the new government.

Similarly though former Goa Governor Kidar Nath Sahani belonged to the RSS, he had to go because there was an allegation that he misused his office to detain and harass a person on the basis of trumped-up charges (see box). The Centre is now probing this allegation.

Both Kailashpati Mishra and Vishnu Kant Shastri had to leave their offices because their conduct in the Raj Bhavans did not inspire the confidence that they would be able to keep the Centre sufficiently informed about the Sangh Parivar’s controversial actions in their respective States. Both States are considered sensitive in view of past incidents - Gujarat because of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom and Uttar Pradesh because of the Ayodhya dispute. Both Mishra and Shashtri owe their political tutelage to the RSS.

In this regard, the role played by former Gujarat Governor and RSS activist Sunder Singh Bhandari during the 2002 pogrom was illustrative of the risks involved in appointing those with an RSS background as Governors, who under the Constitution play a significant role in such critical situations. Bhandari defended the Narendra Modi government and did not feel the need to apprise the Centre of the seriousness of the situation, which, according to many, qualified for the imposition of President’s Rule.

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Gujarat: Kailashpati Mishra.

The role of the Governor in situations where secularism is under threat was well explained by former President K.R. Narayanan during the Governors’ Conference in 2000. Narayanan called upon the Governors to become a source of "moral influence" and act as agents of harmony and tolerance in the troubled times of religious intolerance and sectarian violence. Deploring the "lowering of the tolerance level in society and the emerging cult of violence", Narayanan reminded the Governors that they had an obligation to uphold "India’s traditional heritage of a tolerant society".

THE Centre’s move could have become a federal issue if there is evidence to suggest that it used uncertainty of tenure, including transfer to another State, to influence a Governor’s decisions. On the contrary, the government followed a transparent procedure. It first sought the Governors’ resignations through informal channels. It requested former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s help to secure their resignations in order to avoid taking recourse to a punitive step against the constitutional appointees. However, it was only after the BJP made it clear that the Governors would not quit that their dismissal became inevitable.

The 1988 Sarkaria Commission Report on Centre-State Relations noted about the Governor’s tenure issue: "The ever-present possibility of the tenure being terminated before the full term of five years can create considerable insecurity in the mind of the Governor and impair his capacity to withstand pressures, resist extraneous influences and act impartially in the discharge of his discretionary functions." The case of the four Governors proves, on the contrary, that insecurity of tenure is perhaps the best instrument to secure their accountability as the Constitution does not lay down any procedure for their removal in case of dereliction of duty.

If the BJP’s complaint against the UPA government is that Governors should not be changed merely because they belong to parties or subscribe to ideologies opposed to those in power at the Centre, it ought to look back at its own record in office. In 1998, the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre sought the removal of Gujarat Governor Krishna Pal Singh, who was appointed by the Congress government, for his questionable role in what it believed to be the "undemocratic" dismissal of its State government led by Suresh Mehta after it lost majority in the Assembly.

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Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil.

In July 2001, Tamil Nadu Governor M. Fathima Beevi was removed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for "failure" to discharge her "duty" to inform the Centre at short notice about the developments following the arrest of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. The real reason was, of course, that the Centre perceived a collusion of interests between her and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the latter’s vindictive actions against the DMK, a constituent of the NDA at that time (see box).

Although the Governor, as the head of the State, holds a high constitutional office, which carries with it important functions and duties, the Constitution has given the Governor a clear responsibility as the Centre’s representative in and its link with the State and its government. One of the Governor’s functions has been to keep the President informed of local conditions and developments through "fortnightly letters to the President", a practice that dates back to 1948, as recorded by Granville Austin in his Working a Democratic Constitution: The Indian Experience. The President, in turn, shares the communication with the Central government, as it is a useful input when taking decisions concerning the States. If the Centre feels that only a Governor who could get along with it ideologically and politically would be able to perform this role well, the argument cannot be disputed.

President Kalam highlighted the Governor’s role in his speech to the Governors’ Conference in 2003. He said: "For genuine development of any State, the Centre and the State have to work together. Governors have a key role to ensure this. It is essential that the Governors and the governments in the States work harmoniously to achieve the ultimate aim of integrated development. Any nation in development mode may have difference of opinions - be it political, or managerial or Centre-State relationship. The Governors have to give a leadership to move the development process with fast interface between the Centre and the State. The Governors have a positive role to play to bring about unity of minds. Governors being statesmen, having vast experience are best suited to provide sage advice beyond any political considerations to the people and the government. A Governor is indeed a noble healer."

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