Recently, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called for the abolition of the post of governor. His statement came soon after the misadventures of the Union government in attempting to topple the popularly elected governments of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. Both these attempts led to a national hue and cry, putting the BJP government in a tight spot. The Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the government of Arunachal Pradesh further lent credence to the arguments of the opposition that the governor was exceeding his constitutional brief.
Of course, this is not the first time that the role of the governor has come under the scanner. Whether it has been the Congress, the NDA or even the Janata Party-Third Front, all have misused their powers when at the Centre to topple uncomfortable or opposition state governments to further their political agendas. No wonder, Article 356 has been imposed more than 120 times in various states, at the whims and fancies of the central government.
Governors have been found working at the behest of the Centre and as its agents rather than performing their obligations as constitutional watchdogs.
Governors have been found working at the behest of the Centre and as its agents rather than performing their obligations as constitutional watchdogs. While there have been exceptions to the rule, the post of governor usually goes to party loyalists, with little regard to merit or suitability. Now, let us come to the moot point: Has the post of governor become dispensable in the interest of federalism as enshrined in our Constitution? Should this institution be abolished?
As far as the constitutional provisions are concerned, the governor is expected to act as the link between the Centre and the state with a view to make the federation strong. The Constitution framers were wary of strong centrifugal tendencies in our diverse multi-religious socio-polity and decided to continue with this post so as to enable the Union government to have its eyes and ears in the states and to check state governments from pursuing policies that may not be in conjugation with national priorities. The Indian polity is still susceptible to being pulled in all directions by forces inimical to national interests and integrity. Ever more strident identity politics, naxalism and challenges emanating from religious radicalization have buttressed the case for a strong central supervision for which the governor is required.
The institution continues to be sacrosanct and important but the quality of the incumbents has time and again lowered the institutional prestige.
The governor enjoys wide discretionary powers under Article 163, as well as the power to reserve bills under Articles 200 & 201. In case of fractured verdict, no norms have set for governors on how to initiate government formation, and chances of them getting influenced by central diktats can't be ruled out. The governor has the right to reserve bills passed by the state legislative assembly for the consideration of the President or even refuse assent to bills that curtail the power of High Court, interfere with the basic structure of the Constitution, affect relations with a foreign country and damage federal features. The decision of the governor is absolute and can't be revoked despite insistence from the state cabinet once the President has communicated his refusal to the Governor. The governor seeks reports from the state government on the status of bills, keeps the Centre informed of all the activities in the state, sends reports regarding law and order or breakdown of constitutional machinery and, thus, helps in maintaining effective central control over states.
Of late, the post of governor has become a matter of contention. The argument is that they are beholden to their political masters and ever-willing to meddle in state politics so as to help topple duly elected governments. Yet, governors are not the sole culprits. The conduct of the speakers has also been far from impartial and they have not conducted themselves as per parliamentary democracy norms. The anti-defection law has been much abused. There has been an overall decline in the values of the democratic system. Doing away with the post of governor will be akin to throwing away the baby with the bathwater. The institution continues to be sacrosanct and important but the quality of the incumbents has time and again lowered the institutional prestige. The Supreme Court verdict in the SR Bommai case was historic in the sense that it curtailed the power of the Centre to dismiss state governments arbitrarily. Nonetheless, the problem persists. Certain amendments need to be made to streamline the position of governor, improve the quality of incumbents and provide dignity to this august office. Given the growth of regional parties, some of which lack a national perspective and remain embedded in parochialism and identity politics, makes the case for retaining the institution of governor all the more compelling.
Certain amendments need to be made to streamline the position of governor, improve the quality of incumbents and provide dignity to this august office.
Here are some suggestions to make the post of governor effective again.
- The recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission and the Punchhi Commission report need to be examined closely to make proper amendments to the functions of the post of governor.
- Governorships should go to eminent persons with impeccable credentials rather than these posts becoming dumping grounds for retired politicians.
- A national panel should be prepared after involving the opposition, ruling party, civil society and the judiciary in the selection process; the governor should be appointed from this panel after consultation with the CM of the state in which he or she is to function.
- Ideally speaking, a governor should not be posted in his native state and should preferably have been at a distance from active politics for a significant period.
- The arbitrary dismissals of governors should be stopped at all costs by legislating for a fixed tenure. He should not enjoy office at the pleasure of the President and his removal from office must entail impeachment proceedings in the state assembly. The process of dismissal of the governor should be made as difficult as the removal of high court judges.
- The governor should not be allowed to acquire political positions for a certain period after relinquishing his post. This will enhance the independence of his office and give him more teeth in functioning.
- The discretionary powers need to be whittled; there has to be clear cut guidelines on the appointment of CM i.e. inviting the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance or the party to form the government. No efforts should be made to subvert the mandate and install governments through the back door.
- As far as power to reserve bills is concerned, this should continue but it should be resorted to in the rarest of rare cases and not on a liberal interpretation or malicious intent. If needed, the Governor should be legally made to enlist the opinion of High Court before reserving bills.
- The Punchhi Commission has recommended the localizing of emergency provisions under Articles 355 and 356 of the Constitution. According to it, President's rule should be imposed in those parts of the state where there is constitutional breakdown of machinery -- rather than the whole state. This will go a long way in preventing the dismissal of state governments on petty and manufactured grounds of lawlessness.