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Bridging the distance

india Updated: Jan 26, 2007 03:15 IST
Saroj Nagi

The role of governors has been under a cloud ever since the EMS Namboodiripad ministry in Kerala was dismissed in 1959.

Over the years, the story has been oft repeated. In the 80s, with the politics of aaya rams and gaya rams, that began in Haryana, and the ouster of the N T Rama Rao government in Andhra Pradesh. Recent instances are the actions of the governors of Jharkhand and Goa in installing governments or Uttar Pradesh governor Rajeshwar Rao’s frequent trips to Delhi fuelling speculation of president's rule.

Are governors a bane?

Concerns that the governor will act at the behest of the party in power in New Delhi - rather than be a bridge between the Centre and the state - were articulated even while the Drafting Committee, led by B R Ambedkar, was framing the Constitution. Drafting committee member from Orissa Biswanath Das had warned the office would lead to conflicts. "It may be that a party absolutely different from that at the Centre may be functioning in office in a province….The Governor has to be appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, leader of another party….You are inviting friction,'' he had said. The friction only became evident over the years. If the UPA began its innings by removing the Haryana, Goa, Gujarat and UP governors for their RSS-links, the NDA had done the same earlier putting its people in the Raj Bhavans of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and other states.

'But the office is relevant' 

Seven months after the NDA sent S S Bhandari to Bihar in 1998, the Rabri Devi government was dismissed. When Buta Singh, a Congressman, dissolved the Bihar assembly to allegedly prevent ``horse-trading'' after a fractured mandate in 2005, the matter went to court. The Supreme Court pulled up Singh in October 2005, forcing him to quit.

Despite controversies, the general view — even among governors who have been removed — is that the institution is relevant. As former governor Bhishm Narain Singh said: “Most governors have done their job well, only a few have attracted controversies.” Former governor Bhanu Prakash Singh felt “the person who holds the office can be faulted, but not the institution or the Constitution.”'

Devendra Dwivedy, former additional solicitor general, saw the governor as an important bridge between the Centre and the state. “Only the Governor, and not the president or the prime minister can control the situation if the chief minister goes haywire. He represents the President, not the Government of India, in the state,” Prakash said. The veteran leader had removed the chief minister of Goa, before being asked to step down himself.

Bhishm Narain considers the governor's office more relevant today, given that different parties rule at the Centre and in states. “He is the custodian of the Constitution in the state,”' he said. He favoured a “consensus”' on the appointee while referring to the selection of governors and the confusion over their tenures —which is five years, says Article 156 (b) of the Constitution and is dependent on presidential “pleasure,” says 156 (a).

Important link

Dwivedy said the relevance of governor is intrinsic to the basic structure of the Constitution. “A governor is an important link in the Cabinet system and the federal structure between the Union and the state. He is the head of the state. He is part of the legislature,” he said.

Though the governor acts on ministerial advice, he has one unique responsibility. Unlike the Centre, there is provision for President's Rule in the state when the administration collapses.

Dwivedy saw the controversy as an attempt to politicise the office that is, according to the Supreme Court verdict, expected to function independently. A five judge Constitution bench had, in the Hargovind Pant vs Raghukul Tilak case in 1979, held the governor's office is not an employment under the Government of India and the governor is not subservient to or under the control of the Centre while carrying out his duties. But the governor's relevance for Centre-State relations is a subject of debate. In 1968, a team studied the subject. In 1988, the Sarkaria Commission submitted its report and in 2002, the NDA’s national commission to review the working of the Constitution submitted its report.

Email saroj Nagi: snagi @hindustantimes.com

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