Activist Governors and egoistic Chief Ministers are the last thing India needs, especially during a pandemic
Should State Governors and elected Chief Ministers confront each other even at the time of a crisis? Do we need activist Governors or are they mere figureheads? Do we need the Governors at all or should the post be abolished? These are some of the questions that come to mind in the wake of the recurring disturbing confrontations between the two constitutional offices. It reached a peak last week with some Chief Ministers complaining about it to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his fourth virtual meeting on the Covid-19 strategy. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sought Modi’s intervention alleging that Governors were interfering in the State Government’s work and playing politics to hamper the fight against the Coronavirus.
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy supported her claim. He complained, “We are facing this in Puducherry, too, where Lieutenant-Governor Kiran Bedi is trying to run a parallel Government despite a judicial snub. We are going to move a contempt notice against her.” Narayanasamy and Bedi have been at loggerheads since the latter assumed office in 2016 with the Chief Minister even saying, “The Centre has appointed a demon.”
Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari did not cover himself in glory when he decided to swear in BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis in October 2019 in a hurried, private oath-taking ceremony at 7.30 am. Maharashtra also witnessed how Uddhav Thackeray had been kept on tenterhooks about his election to the legislature. Ultimately on the intervention of the Prime Minister, to whom Uddhav had appealed for help, the Governor wrote a letter to the Election Commission to hold polls to the council as a special case.
The situation in Delhi is no better. The relationship between Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal and the Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal and his predecessor Najeeb Jung was quite strained. Kejriwal got some reprieve after the Supreme Court ruled in July 2018 that the Lieutenant -Governor does not have independent decision-making powers and the real power must lie with the elected Government. Baijal had recently written a strongly-worded letter to Kejriwal on the exodus of tens of thousands of migrant workers from the national Capital after Modi announced a nationwide lockdown that caught citizens by surprise. This exodus forced the Centre to ask bordering States to seal their borders and look after the migrants.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has been having differences with the State Government on many issues, including the Government’s stand on the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA). In his address to the Assembly, he read out the prepared speech but also expressed his own views on the CAA.
The ongoing tug of war between Mamata and the Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has turned ugly in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis. With both asserting their constitutional positions and Mamata alleging that the Governor is overstepping his jurisdiction, West Bengal is witnessing a no holds barred fight. The two have had tense relations since the day Dhankhar took over as Governor last July. There have been many incidents of a verbal clash over several issues, including the law and order situation in the State, to the running of universities. Even though the Prime Minister has praised Mamata for her handling of the pandemic, Dhankhar had continued his criticism, alleging that Mamata had failed to enforce the lockdown. The latest is a warning from Mamata accusing Dhankhar of trying to “usurp powers” amid the Coronavirus crisis. In his letters, Dhankhar had urged Mamata to refrain from indulging in politics during the pandemic.
This brings us to the question what is the role of the Governor? The Constitution empowers him/her to influence the decisions of an elected Government by giving the right “to be consulted, to warn and encourage.” Pertinently, the Sarkaria Commission had recommended that the Governor should be appointed in consultation with the State’s Chief Minister and second, the five-year term of the Governor should not be disturbed except in rare circumstances.
Unfortunately the Governor’s role has been distorted as successive Central Governments from the time of Indira Gandhi had often used and abused the office of the Governor. Indira changed the rules of the game by making loyalty to her the sole merit. But even then, the country never witnessed the kind of acrimony between the Governors and the Chief Ministers that is being seen now.
What is needed today is harmony between the two constitutional posts and not figuring out who is right and who is wrong. Both are expected to function with dignity and decorum. Both are expected to confine themselves to the role envisaged by the framers of the Constitution. Activist Governors and egoistic Chief Ministers are the last thing India needs. As Gopal Krishna Gandhi, himself a former Governor, says in an article, “A Chief Minister actuates a popular mandate, the Governor exercises that all-pervasive moral influence, both together providing the people in their jurisdiction the assurance they are in secure and mutually composed, not conflicted hands.”
(Writer: Kalyani Shankar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)