Debating India

The unmaking of Governors

Saturday 18 June 2005

Considering the controversies surrounding the actions of Governors in Jharkhand, Goa and Bihar in the recent period, it is understandable that the focus in the two-day Governors’ conference was on ways to restore their standing and reputation for fairness. Indeed it is one high office that, with honourable exceptions, has not quite worked as envisaged by the Constitution makers. President Abdul Kalam advised the Governors to rise above their political past and serve as a "beacon of light in the affairs of the State."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered them specific guidelines on functioning independently according to their best judgment of their own constitutional role and of the national interest, and on always being conscious of the public perception of their actions. Such exhortations are not new but given the ways of some of the Governors they certainly bear repetition. The strong public perception of Governors as partisans of the party in power at the Centre has been strengthened by such actions as ignoring obvious and publicly demonstrated majority support and installing their preferred party in office, dismissing Chief Ministers without floor tests, sending out reports to the Centre with implied threats to the governments in the States, and generally fanning hostility to the State governments from out of Raj Bhavans.

A Governor’s fairness, judgment and understanding of his constitutional role are put to test in times of crisis or when a government is to be formed when there is no clear cut majority in the legislature or when a government’s majority support is called into question. The head of State’s reputation stands or falls depending on whether he or she handles such difficult situations with fairness and statesmanship, true to the spirit of the Constitution and the well-established conventions of responsible parliamentary government. Quite apart from the conduct of Governors, two areas cry out for reform. The first is the appointment itself: there is a need to ensure that small men or women with merely partisan uses are not elevated to the high office. As the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution has recommended, Governors should be appointed after consultation with the State Chief Ministers, and should be eminent persons in some walk of life and not those who have been in active politics in the recent past. Secondly, the practice of treating Governors as agents of the Centre, or worse, of the ruling party at the Centre, needs to be abandoned. Too often, the Union Home Ministry treats Governors as its subordinate officials and the ruling party habitually seeks to use them for its own ends. While the primary responsibility for restoring the dignity and standing of the office rests on the Governors themselves and on their conduct, the Central Government and the ruling party at the Centre cannot be oblivious of their own role in the making or unmaking of the office of Governor.

See online : The Hindu

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