“Do we really need Governors anymore?”, read the headline of a daily in India. What prompted a newspaper to write this? To get the answer, we must glance into the role played by the Governors of various states in Indian politics. The Constituent Assembly incorporated the post of Governor by studying the Canadian system, where the President appoints a Governor on the advice of the central government.
Recent conflicts in some states between the elected governments and the Governor appointed by the President have opened a debate regarding the role of the Governor in Indian politics. While performing their duties as heads of state, governors often land in controversy of whether they have transgressed their ambit of power.
The draft constitution provided for an elected Governor. However, after deliberations in the constituent assembly, it was agreed that the Governor should be appointed by the President. Jawaharlal Nehru also supported a nominated governor, arguing that elections for the position of governor would result in conflict between the chief minister and the governor, as well as a waste of energy and money.
As envisaged by the Constitution, the Governor has certain powers and duties to fulfil. He appoints the chief minister of state, who holds the majority in the legislature. He appoints other ministers as well on the advice of the chief minister. The Governor also enjoys some discretionary powers. For example, the reservation of a bill for the consideration of the President, the recommendation for the imposition of the President’s rule, and the seeking of information from the chief minister regarding the administrative and legislative matters of the state.
In addition to the above constitutional discretions, the Governor has some situational discretions as well. Some examples include the appointment of a CM when no party has a clear majority, dismissal of the council of ministers when it cannot demonstrate the confidence of the state legislature, and dissolution of the state legislative assembly if the council of ministers has lost its majority. While performing these functions, if the Governor acts in a partisan manner, conflict is bound to happen.
One such example is the swearing-in ceremony of Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar without any public notice. There are numerous other examples related to the controversial role of the Governor, such as excessive interference in day-to-day functioning. Shivsena filed a petition against the Governor’s conduct in Maharashtra for his undue interference in the administration of the state.
West Bengal’s chief minister and several MPs wrote to the President demanding the withdrawal of the Governor of the state. The conflict between elected representatives and Governors is mainly witnessed when there are governments of different parties in the state and at the center.
The Tamil-Nadu Governor was also in the news for stalling the bills passed by the state legislature. In Kerala, a delay in the approval by the Governor caused 11 ordinances to expire. In addition, university appointments in Kerala brought the Governor and the elected government to opposite ends.
This type of partisan behaviour is not a recent phenomenon. If we run down the memory lane of history, it will become evident that Governors have acted to please the party ruling at the center since independence. In 1952, the Tamil Nadu Governor, instead of inviting the communists who had the largest number of seats, invited C. Rajgopalachari of Congress to form the government. In 2006, the Governor of Bihar dissolved the assembly immediately after the elections. However, the Supreme Court intervened and held that the assembly could not be dissolved without conducting the first meeting.
When we read or hear cases as mentioned above, it appears that the post of Governor is not required at all in India. However, governors also perform various salient duties, such as ensuring that the rule of law is respected in the state, the Constitution is followed, and checking the hasty passage of bills. These functions, if performed efficiently, ensure democracy in the state.
Our constitution makers envisaged the post of Governor for better center-state co-operation. But the result has been the opposite. Since independence, the post of Governor has remained controversial. The main reason is that the Governor does not have the security of tenure. The President can remove him from office anytime on the advice of the central government. Thus, the Governor’s position depends on the whims and fancies of the central government. As recommended by the Punchi Commission, the removal of the Governor should be done by impeachment, as done in the case of the President.
National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommends that the Governor be appointed by a committee comprising the PM, Union Home Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and CM of the concerned state. This will help in avoiding conflicts between the elected government and the Governor.
The recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission are pertinent for better center-state relations. The committee recommended that eminent persons in some walks of life and persons outside the state be appointed as governors. The commission also recommended that Governors should not be removed before the completion of their tenure.
The views of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar are a guiding light to knowing the actual position of the Governor in Indian politics. Dr. Ambedkar had said, “I have no doubt in my mind that discretionary power is in no sense a negation of responsible government. It is not a general clause giving the governor power to disregard the advice of his ministers in any matter in which he finds he ought to disregard.” Therefore, selecting a chief minister of his choice or creating/utilising opportunities for defections to change the party in power cannot be a governor’s job.
As the Sarkaria Commission succinctly put it, his task “is to see that a government is formed and not to try to form a government,” which most governors are seen to be doing even to this day.