There is bad news and worse news on some days and this seems to be one of those for the government. The Supreme Court has ruled to restore the Nabam Tuki government in Arunachal Pradesh after it had been dismissed earlier on the recommendation of the governor JP Rajkhowa a month before schedule after 21 of the 47 MLAs had rebelled against the chief minister. What followed was high drama with the assembly session being held at a community centre and a hotel after the assembly building was locked on the speaker’s orders.
After Mr Tuki’s removal, Kalikho Pul was sworn in a chief minister with the support of 11 BJP MLAs and 18 rebels. This comes in the wake of a similar restoration of another Congress government in the hill state of Uttarakhand in May. In that case too, the governor had played a crucial role in the developments. While the political battle rages, what this highlights once again is the role of governors in making and breaking state governments. The role of the governor is meant to ensure checks and balances in democracy, but over the years they have played a partisan role in exercising authority in contravention of the elected government. There is much truth in the claim that this once exalted constitutional office has become one of grace and favour from the government of the day. Sinecures are provided to those seem to be useful to the government of the day, a trend which was very visible during the Congress regime of Indira Gandhi during which a number of chief ministers were removed on seemingly spurious grounds. One particular example which comes to mind is the dismissal of the Kashmir government in 1984 by governor Jagmohan. The consequences of that fateful move were felt for years to come in the sensitive and volatile state.
Here, the blatant politicking in fragile border states like Arunachal could have destabilising effect beyond its borders. The dismissal of a democratically-elected government should be a weapon of last resort and not one aimed at playing political ducks and drakes. No less than Sardar Patel once spoke of the role of the governor as one which should have no invasion in the field of ministerial responsibility. The Arunachal episode, whichever way it plays out, occasions a re-examination of the propriety of using the office of governor as a form of reward and of the choice of pliant persons who owe their position to the largesse of the government rather than their own merit. The refrain from the opposition that this is a win for democracy is appropriate but it is one which they too would do well to remember.