Kheer must have been one of the dishes in the dinner Dr Balram Jakhar had with Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s family on last Tuesday at the Chief Minister’s residence. The Governor had affectionately complained to Sadhna Singh in the Independence Day party at Raj Bhawan about long overdue invitation for Kheer. His avuncular remonstrance finally worked on the Chief Minister’s wife, a good 35 days later.
The 35-day period saw many developments that had threatened to put the CM and the Governor on collision course. The CM was only too well aware that the Governor is unhappy with his government’s handling of the Professor HS Sabharwal’s death and stonewalling of the administrative reforms in universities. Meanwhile, Dr Jakhar also sought some clarification on the controversial freedom of religion (amendment) bill.
In the event, the overdue invitation came in handy for a beleaguered Shivraj to thaw the chill on his ties with Dr Jakhar. The dinner was preceded and followed by two meetings each between them within a week.
The newfound bonhomie, however, could be deceptive. Much as the CM might try to please the Governor, the ideological compulsions will also guide and restrain their ties. On his part, Dr Jakhar cannot afford to be seen too friendly with Shivraj Singh. State Congress leaders regard the Governor as the MP pointsman of their UPA Government in the Centre. They expect him to be wary of the BJP government.
Earlier occupants of the Raj Bhawan were free from such gubernatorial dilemmas when Congress was a monolith ruling party. Of course, anecdotes about the CM-Governor clash in MP are aplenty down the years but it assumed pronounced ideological veneer for the first time in the protracted war of attrition between Digvijay Singh and Dr Bhai Mahavir. Earlier clashes were mostly egocentric.
For the first 15 years since the State’s formation, both the CMs and the Governors had been stalwarts. They shared Congress ideology and cherished common values they had imbibed during the freedom struggle under Gandhi and Nehru. There is no known incident of clash between first CM Ravishankar Shukla and first Governor Pattabhi Sitaramaiyah. Their respective successors KN Katju and Hari Vinayak Pataskar also went along well.
Pataskar’s successor KC Reddy too was an old warhorse of freedom movement. His religiosity was a little quaint. It was said he would often disrob completely and proclaim himself a Jain monk. However, his idiosyncrasy was never an impediment in good relation with Chief Minister DP Mishra whose national stature was awe-inspiring for the Governor.
Reddy , however, showed displeasure to Vijayaraje Scindia’s when first non-Congress government fell in 1969. Govind Narayan Singh had toppled the DP Mishra Government in connivance with Vijayaraje Scindia of Jansangh but the government did not last long. Amid revolt in the Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD) GN Singh stepped down. Then Ms Scindia anointed Raja Naresh Chandra as his successor.
She wanted Governor Reddy to swear in her nominee as CM without being elected leader of the SVD. Reddy refused. It is said deposed CM DP Mishra persuaded the Governor to swear in his friend Raja Naresh Chandra. But the government did not last more than a few days.
Satyanarayan Sinha’s arrival in the Raj Bhawan heralded an age of confrontation between the CM and the Governor. Sinha was a hedonist Bihari Babu. He was fond of good things that prominently included sleek Sherwanis, expensive perfumes and beautiful women. He had been parliamentary minister under Nehru and would call Indira Gandhi as Indu.
Chief Minister Shyama Charan Shukla was no less stylist. The debonair son of the first MP Chief Minister was loath to the Governor’s condescending attitude towards him. They stopped talking. As the hostility deepened, the CM denied Satyanarayan Babu official plane.
The Governor complained to PM Indira Gandhi against the CM several times. Indira’s trusted friend and Delhi MP Subhadra Joshi once confronted SC Shukla about his tussle with the Governor. Two journalists were also present at the dinner meeting in Joshi’s house in New Delhi. One of them explained the tussle with tongue-in-cheek remark.
“ Actually, Satyanarayan Babu is annoyed because Shyama Charan has monopolised all the beautiful women of Bhopal”. The Prince Charming, as SC Shukla was known, had a hearty laugh over the joke.
It is said that Sinha also played a role in unceremonious ouster of SC Shukla when the CM refused to drop his three ministers Shatrughan Tiwari, KN Pradhan and Sabu, defying Indira Gandhi’s diktat in 1972.
Shukla’s successor PC Sethi struck an instant cordial chord with Satyanarayan Babu. On the Governor’s behest, the CM replaced RP Nayak with RCPV Naronha as chief secretary. Nayak’s use of a word “desist” had piqued the Governor.
It so happened that the Governor prevailed upon the CM to issue an ordinance for ‘ridding’ the University executive councils of the elements who were obstructing his proposals to reform student union elections. RP Nayak saw the move as “ undemocratic” and wrote a note-sheet that the Chancellor should “ desist” from such action.
When Governor called Nayak to seek explanation on use of the word, the CS said given another chance he would write it again. The audacity did the CS in.
Sethi-Sinha camaraderie stood the CM in good stead when one of his ministers Parmanand Bhai Patel raised a banner of revolt. Three ministers Mahant Bisahu Das, Jhumuk Lal Bhendia and Tuman Lal resigned. Senior Congress leader Uma Shankar Dixit conveyed the high command’s message to the CM that if the tribal ( Bhendia ) and SC ( Tuman Lal ) ministers don’t withdraw the resignations, he would have to go. Sethi sought the Governor’s help to diffuse the crisis. The Governor called the three rebel ministers and persuaded them to issue a statement, reposing faith in Sethi’s leadership.
Sinha’s successors NN Vanchu and CM Punacha were apolitical Governors. They refrained from crossing swords with the Janata Party’s CM VK Sakhlecha. Kailash Joshi was CM for six months and Sundar Lal Patwa barely 24 days. The crisis-ridden Government gave no reasons and time for the three CMs to pick up a bone with the Governor.
Three years after Sinha’s exit, another politician -Bhagwat Dayal Sharma -occupied the Raj Bhawan on April 30,1980. The Haryanavi politician, however, posed no problem to Chief Minister Arjun Singh whose phenomenal capacity to woo potential detractors is still remembered in State politics as folklores. In fact, the Governor himself was smitten by this quality. He was to go to the USA for some reason.
When MP High Court Chief Justice was being sworn in as acting Governor, BD Sharma was present in the Raj Bhawan. Some journalists wondered how two Governors could be in the Raj Bhawan simultaneously. Sharma remarked, “ Actually, I am rather caution lest the CM should allot the Raj Bhawan to some journalist in my absence”. BD Sharma created furore once when he ill- advisedly commented that he would not like to be treated by any reserved quota doctor. Arjun Singh publicly disapproved the comment.
Sharma’s successor KM Chandi was a gentleman to a fault. Incidentally, he had a gentleman CM to deal with. Both Motilal Vora and Chandi went along very well. Chandi’s concerns and suggestions for reforms in State’s universities would be duly taken care of during the Vora regime. Chandi was stickler for the rules. Arjun Singh was sent for a second time as Vora’s replacement in 1988. He wanted to take oath of the CM’s office the very night he landed in Bhopal.
The formality of his election as CLP leader was completed in presence of barely a dozen MLAs. When Chandi was communicated Arjun Singh’s desire, the Governor retired to his bedroom, saying he should not be disturbed.
Once again Vora replaced Arjun Singh after 11 months. This time around, an affable Vora had a conceited Governor to deal with. Retired principal secretary in the Prime Minister Office, Sarla Grewal brought to the Raj Bhawan all the clouts she wielded in the office she had demitted. She was fond of inviting guests for picnics at State’s tourist spots.
Vora was wary of her could-not-care-less attitude but was too timid to tell this to the Rajiv Gandhi’s close confidante. Only once Vora demonstrated his displeasure to Grewal and that too by subtle action. The Governor had a school for poor children being run in the Raj Bhawan for years closed down. An annoyed Vora quickly got another school constructed near Raj Bhawan.
Kunwar Mehmood Ali Khan’s arrival in Raj Bhawan saw role reversal. He was as docile as CM Sundar Lal Patwa was haughty. But when situation demanded courage, the Governor rose to the occasion. In the aftermath of the Babri riots he took the reports of then BHEL ED SK Handa and MP Human Rights Commission chairman Khalilullah to prepare a ground for Patwa government’s dismissal. Otherwise, they were at peace.
Kunwar Mehmood’s successor Mohammad Shafi Qureshi and CM Digvijay Singh had a rare chemistry between them. Qureshi lived life king size in the Raj Bhawan thanks to the CM’s generosity.
Qureshi ‘s successor Dr Bhai Mahavir was just his opposite. The simple, vegetarian Arya Samaji sheared the Raj Bhawan of the extravagance he had inherited. He was a dyed-in-the wool Jansanghi. His proactive role as Governor alarmed the CM. Mutual mistrust burgeoned. CM suspected the Governor was pursuing RSS agenda.
The Governor felt the CM was deliberately humiliating him. Soon enough, they would talk only through messages and messengers. The bill seeking usurpation of the Chancellor’s powers in university matters was a flash point in their open hostility. Eventually, Dr Mahavir triumphed. He sat on the bill all through his tenure.