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When bishops become pawns

india Updated: Jul 04, 2011 13:49 IST

Hindustan Times
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Popular perception of the role of the governor as being little more than a smiling benign presence at state functions, largely given to tending the roses in the Raj Bhavan, is turning out to be myth as the office is increasingly involving itself in political manoeuvres, and not always with good effect.

The latest is the collision between Karnataka governor HR Bhardwaj and chief minister BS Yeddyurappa after the latter sanctioned prosecution against Mr Yeddyurappa in the controversial land allotments made by him. Going by conventional political logic, Mr Yeddy-urappa has a point when he says that a state-appointed commission headed by a retired judge was looking into the allegations and the outcome of that is awaited.

The charge that Mr Bhardwaj has acted at the behest of the Centre to derail Mr Yeddyurappa will push the battle squarely into the political arena with the Congress saying the embattled CM should seek legal redress. Mr Bhardwaj is the latest in a line of governors who have been proactive in political decisions, the most notable being Buta Singh’s dubious decision to dissolve the Bihar assembly in 2005.

The Supreme Court had to step in to declare the governor’s action unconstitutional and illegal, forcing him to resign. Similarly, when AR Antulay was facing corruption charges, the then governor did not sanction his prosecution. The public outcry forced Mr Antulay out of office. Several other CMs have also been at the receiving end of the governor’s wrath in corruption cases.

What this has done is to turn the spotlight on just how impartial the role of the governor really is. Since it is a political appointment, it stands to reason that the party which appointed the person will try to manipulate things to its advantage. But if the governor is seen to be a puppet in the hands of any political party, the post ceases to have any relevance whatsoever.

A constitutional position like that of the governor cannot be subject to the vagaries of politics. The fact that the office has not always been beyond reproach has led to many asking that this post be abolished. For it to have the effect of being one more level in the checks and balances in democracy, it might well be worth examining how to insulate the office from political pressure.

We have seen very few governors who have had the gumption to stand up to the government of the day. The Yeddyurappa saga is not yet over. But whichever way it goes, the office of the governor has been just a little more diminished by it.