Starting with the dismissal of the EMS Namboodiripad ministry in Kerala in 1952, the role of governors has been under controversy that only got accentuated over the years with the politics of aya rams and gaya rams that began in a big way with Haryana and the ouster of the NT Rama Rao government in Andhra Pradesh in the 80s.
Recent incidents involving the governors of Jharkhand and Goa over the installation of governments or UP governor Rajeshwar Rao’s frequent trips to Delhi fuelling speculation of president’s rule have only added to it.
Are governors a boon or a bane in Parliamentary democracy? There are no easy answers to this and even the founding fathers of the Constitution debated on it intensely while deciding that the governor was a vital link between the Centre and the states.
Concerns that the governor would act at the behest of the party in power in New Delhi - rather than act as a bridge between the Centre and the state - were articulated even when the Drafting Committee, led by BR Ambedkar, sat to frame the Constitution.
Biswanath Das (Orissa), for instance, warned of future 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 said.
The friction Das talked about became evident over the years. But if the UPA started off by removing the governors of Haryana, Goa, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh for their RSS-links, it also retained others, including TN Chaturvedi. The NDA, which attacked the UPA for changing governors, however, had not hesitated during its tenure to put its own people in the Raj Bhavans in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and other states amid apprehensions that they would follow their leaders’ diktat.
Similarly, seven months after the NDA sent SS 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" following a fractured mandate in 2005, the matter was taken to court.
The Supreme Court pulled up Buta and he had to quit the Raj Bhavan. Such incidents notwithstanding, the general view - even among governors who were removed - is that the institution is relevant. Besides, said former governor Bhishm Narain Singh: "A majority of governors have
done their job very well, only a few have attracted controversies." According to ex-governor Bhanu Prakash Singh: "the person who holds the office can be faulted, not the institution or the Constitution which provides for such an office."
Both leaders, as well as Devendra Dwivedy, former additional solicitor general, see the governor is an important bridge between the Centre and the state.
"Only the Governor, and not the president or the PM can control the situation if the CM goes haywire. He represents the president, not the Government of India in the state," said Bhanu Prakash. The veteran leader is among those who have had both experiences: first of removing the CM of Goa and then of being asked to step down himself.
Bhishm Narain considers the governor’s office as even 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 gubernatorial appointee while referring to the controversy about the selection of governors and the confusion over their tenures - which is five years, according to Article 156 (b) of the Constitution and is dependent on presidential "pleasure" according to 156 (a).
Dwivedy maintained that the issue of relevance of governor has nothing to do with coalitions but with the basic structure of the Constitution. "A governor is an integral part of the parliamentary system, an important link in the Cabinet system and a federal
structure between the Union and the state. He is the head of the state. He is part of the legislature which consists of the Governor and the two Houses. All actions are in his name," he said.
Though the governor acts on ministerial advice, he has one responsibility that is unique. Unlike the Centre, there is provision for President’s Rule in the state which allows him to govern when the state administration collapses.
Dwivedy, for one, saw the whole controversy about the relevance of governors 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 that the governor’s office is not an employment under the Government of India and the governor is not subordinate or subservient to or under the control of the Centre while carrying out his duties.
But the governor’s relevance, role and implications for Centre-State relations remain a matter of controversy and debate. In 1968, a study team on centre-state relations went into the subject. In 1988, there was the Sarkaria Commission report. In 2002, the NDA government-backed national commission to review the working of the Constitution submitted its report.