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The Arunachal Farce And Why The Anti-Democratic, Colonial Post Of The Governor Should Be Abolished

04/01/2016 8:33 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Not all is right in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Some old British-rule-era habits die hard, or maybe they never die at all, for some imperial habits are essential for maintaining undemocratic dominance over democratically elected undesirables. Thus, New Delhi struck again, this time through the office of the governor of Arunachal Pradesh.

Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, a Delhi School of Economics-educated former IAS officer, was appointed as the governor of Arunachal Pradesh by the present BJP-led NDA government at New Delhi. And it is this appointee of the central government, this unelected man, who toppled the democratically elected government of Arunachal Pradesh, led by Chief Minister Nabam Tuki of the Congress.

This feat was accomplished by convening the assembly without consulting the speaker or the chief minister and using that "assembly" to "impeach" Nabam Rebia, the speaker of the Arunachal Pradesh assembly. This governor-convened "assembly", incidentally, was not actually held inside the Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly building but in a random community hall in Itanagar. The Gauhati High Court has stayed these actions by the governor for the time being. Thus, this attempt at "regime change" has been stalled.

Who is the governor of a state? That character is New Delhi's agent in a state/province [with] discretionary powers -- which do not flow from the wishes of the state's people...

So, what does one call the toppling of an elected government by an unelected office-holder like the governor? Rajkhowa chose to act as he did based on his reading of the Constitution. It is amazing that there exists no method available beforehand to a state government and hence to the people of the state to stop a New Delhi-deputed governor from doing what he did. This is a disease common to all over-centralised multi-ethnic rashtras. These entities show who is sovereign by choosing which of their own made-up rules they can violate and when.

Unfortunate are the people of the lands that are called Arunachal Pradesh. Even the name of the state, "Arunachal Pradesh", is an imposition for those two words mean nothing in any language native to the people. It is distant folks, who are not of this land, who decide the fate of the state sitting in or consulting with New Delhi -- in short, the folks who really matter. Their plight may not even have made it to the so-called national radar but for the fact that the ousted government was led by a "national party" and that party now needs to score brownie points against its ruling rival in New Delhi.

Let me state certain things, in a question and answer form.

Who is the governor of a state? That character is New Delhi's agent in a state/province. This character even has discretionary powers -- which do not flow from the wishes of the state's people but typically from the wishes of New Delhi.

What is the origin of this position? When the British acquired one sovereign area of the subcontinent after another, after having amassed some serious amount of territory (which would go on to become the Indian Union and Pakistan in 1947), they appointed some loyal and trusted dalals of centralised imperial rule to keep the acquired areas and provinces "in check". These positions had various names in various British-acquired and -controlled territories in the subcontinent. The 1935 Government of India Act had provincial governors with huge discretionary powers -- natural for a colonial centre when dealing with limited but representative native provincial government. The post-partition position of the governor is, in a long-range sense, the continuation of that office.

There has been President's Rule in the states nearly a 100 times, with the governor playing a shameful role most of the time.

What change did governorship undergo from Union Jack to Tricolour? How similar were the pre-partition dalals of British imperialism and post-partition agents of New Delhi? Firstly, post-partition, they were non-White. Also, they answered to New Delhi and not to London. But as before, they were almost never from the area which they were appointed to "govern". They also have often done what their pre-partition counterparts did -- carry out central rule in accordance to the wishes of New Delhi, typically when democratically elected governments of states does things that New Delhi's sarkar bahadur didn't like.

Did the Indian Union's founding fathers want to change or abolish this imperialism-inspired position? Yes and no. If one follows the debates of the constituent assembly, one sees a pattern. The debates started before 1947, and ended much after that. The same Congressites who made many speeches in such debates in support of state rights made an about turn after partition. With their super-majority control of New Delhi, centralising power was the way to check any opposition. This was reflected in the governor issue. There were the anti-imperialist calls for doing away with the position altogether. There was a democratic sentiment of having a governor elected by the state's people. After all, how can the constitutional head of the state government be so unrepresentative? True to their character, most of Indian Union's founding fathers sitting in New Delhi not only wanted the governor position to continue but also made it an unelected position, directly controlled by the Centre. They also gave this position the power to recommend the dissolution of elected state governments, often voted into power by many crores of people. There has been President's Rule in the states nearly a 100 times, with the governor playing a shameful role most of the time. Twenty-two of these instances saw the governor rule the states for a year or more. And President's Rule is just one among the many other ways in which New Delhi parks its unwanted nose in state politics through its governor.

Swaraj is a process -- not an event. Abolishing the post of governor will be a step in that direction.

Such an undemocratic system has no place in a representative federal democracy. It is only after the rise of ethno-national parties in the states that the governors have lost some teeth. But they have not become toothless, as the events of Itanagar show.

The office of the governor is an example of an anti-people, undemocratic relic from the British rule. Must we remind ourselves so explicitly that what happened on 15 August 1947 was transfer of power, its repackaging as "independence" notwithstanding? The people of a state, Arunachal Pradesh included, are neither stupid or nor apprentice-citizens. They are adults with inalienable rights of democratic representation. Swaraj is a process -- not an event. Abolishing the post of governor will be a step in that direction. It's not a "bad apple" issue but a poison tree issue. Why should unelected governors exist at all?

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