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Not just figureheads: why the governor's post is important

In suggesting that governors of the day demit office before term, the present government is doing what was done unto it. Tit for tat is not a game to be played for the office, writes Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

columns Updated: Jun 28, 2014 00:02 IST
governors of states,Congress,BJP

What does Jayaprakash Narayan have to do with governors?


He was never one, could not have ever imagine himself as one.

But my mind stumbled on a JP-Raj Bhavan link — through the institution of autograph hunting.

Like many teenagers I had my philately days, camera days and autograph days.

The first two flaked off but the last has remained with me, though the surface on which I like to get and see names signed is not the autograph book but the book qua book, the ‘signatory’ being the author or someone connected with the book.

One of the earliest autographs I collected on a ‘proper’ autograph book was Jayaprakash Narayan’s. I remember the occasion vividly. Most obliging ‘autograph hunted’ took no more than a few seconds to perform their task — pen-cap unscrewed, the signing done, cap screwed back, replaced in the pocket, ‘thank yous’ exchanged, and that was that. JP took his own time. Pen in hand he pondered the blank page and then wrote slowly in a hand that was utterly decipherable, in two scripts, Nagari and Roman. In the first he quoted Vyasa and in the second, the Bible. The messages were identical, conveyed centuries apart. The one in English said:

“Do not do unto others what thou wouldst not others do to thyself”.

I recalled this Bible quote when I was reflecting on the current plight of governors. In suggesting to the governors of the day that they demit office before term, the present government is only doing what was done unto it.

Public memory is short but is not dead.

It remembers the Congress’ hatchet falling on some BJP-appointed governors in 2004.

Pandit Vishnu Kant Shastri was of RSS stock but, essentially, a scholar and a teacher. As governor of Uttar Pradesh he had done nothing to show any bias towards the political party with which he had been connected. But UPA 1 sacked him, along with the BJP-appointed governors of Haryana, Gujarat and Goa. And the gentleman who succeeded Shastri was TV Rajeswar. What was the significance, if any, of that? ‘TV’, as he is called among friends, had himself been unceremoniously removed from Raj Bhavan, Kolkata in 1989 by the VP Singh government, to make way for Nurul Hasan. This was at the instance, one may conclude, of the Left Front government in Kolkata, which did not want the former director, IB, but the once card-holding member of the CPI, Hasan, who, in turn, had been equally unceremoniously ‘transferred’ by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the ‘smaller’ state of Orissa. ‘TV’ was being made to do what had been done unto him.

In Haryana, the BJP-appointed Babu Parmanand was replaced in 2004 by AR Kidwai. What was the significance of that, if any? The veteran Congressman had been five years earlier, in 1999, asked to quit by the newly-installed BJP government. Kidwai had reached Darjeeling on circuit the very day he was rung and asked to go. The gentleman that he is, he came down the hill in hours and returned to Delhi. Five years on, his ouster from West Bengal was ‘avenged’ when he replaced, before term, Parmanand.

There are other instances to show the tit-for-tat behaviour of governments in Delhi in the matter of governors, post the Nehru phase. No party, whether the Congress, the Janata Dal or the BJP has been above doing precisely what they would hate being done unto themselves.

Governors are for their states what the President is for the country. The difference is that they are appointed, the President is elected.

Though their appointment is by the President, governors are in effect, selected by the prime minister. This makes them, even the non-political ones, politically appointed. The President, in appointing governors is only acting on the advice of the PM. Some powerful chief ministers can of course propose names to the PM who is likely to adopt those names, especially in coalition conditions. And of course ‘the party’ would have its names for the PM to adopt, whether he likes the individuals or not. But, essentially, every governor is the PM’s gift to the state, welcome or unwelcome.

It follows, therefore, that when a new prime minister takes charge as a result of a change of the party in power, governors should be ready to demit office and make it known to the Union government that they are. That would be the right in propriety. And, equally, the PM should ask them to stay on, unless the person’s appointment or functioning has been in one way or another, perverse. Tit for tat is not a game to be played for the office of what is, in substance and style, a mirror of the office of the President of India.

The only thing worse than a Union government prising governors out of Raj Bhavans is governors being seen as reluctant to their leave their offices of prize.

What is the solution? The Left would say ‘abolish the office’. That would be cutting off the head to cure a headache.

Certain felicities in architecture are not just decorative but combine utility with grace.

Governors are not just ‘Figureheads of the State’, they are the power inverter or generator or emergency lamp every electricity-unsteady state needs.

The new government has shown itself to be conditioned by the lamentable practice of tit for tat in the matter of removing governors of a different political feather. Can we not hope that even if it wants to change governors, the ones it appoints will be women and men of no political feather at all? If such persons of whom there is no dearth are appointed, may be, a new chapter will be opened in Raj Bhavans of wise counsellors, not clever courtiers, performing that sensitive role.

Who would want to do unto governors such as Sarojini Naidu, Sri Prakasa, MS Aney, KM Munshi, PV Cherian, Zakir Husain, VV Giri, BK Nehru, LP Singh, Ujjal Singh, Jothi Venktachellum, KV Raghunatha Reddi, BR Bhagat to name but a few, anything other than that which is graceful?

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is former administrator, diplomat and governor. He is currently senior Fellow, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University, New Delhi

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jun 27, 2014 23:13 IST