Need To Revisit Role Of Governors

Need To Revisit Role Of Governors

Independent India had the distinguished reputation of appointing high profile, eminent and persons who excelled in their fields impartially as Governors of States in the beginning for quite some time.

Independent India had the distinguished reputation of appointing high profile, eminent and persons who excelled in their fields impartially as Governors of States in the beginning for quite some time. The practice has been steadily given up for political considerations in due course at least in a few cases. Congress, BJP as well as the UPA and the NDA governments at centre are equally responsible for this.

A few eminent persons among others held the posts as Governors: Nightingale of India Sarojini Naidu, a proponent of civil rights, her daughter Padmaja Naidu, a freedom fighter, Nehru's sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, an Indian diplomat and a onetime President of the UN General Assembly, Sharda Mukherjee, Pratibha Patil, who later became President of India, CM Trivedi, a former civil servant, Shankar Dayal Sharma, a constitutional expert who later became Vice-President and President of India, Zakir Hussain, an Indian economist who later became President of India, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former diplomat, Mehdi Nawaz Jung, an Indian Bureaucrat, VV Giri associated with labour and trade union movement who later became Vice-President and President, C Rangarajan, a noted economist, E S L Narasimhan, a former civil servant etc. All of them excelled in their role.

Against this context, it has become imperative to look at the Indian Constitution with respect to roles, responsibilities and limits of Governor's office in the ever-changing political scenario. The Constituent Assembly had in its mind specifically the concept of union with a strong centre but within the broad framework of cooperative federalism. However, our politico-legal infrastructure is a federal one. It stands characterized as a Unitary State with subsidiary federal features rather than federal state with subsidiary unitary features.

All the pros and cons pertaining to its provisions as well as the nature of appointment were elaborately discussed in the Constituent Assembly before giving it a final touch. Draft Constitution suggested two alternatives, namely, appointment of Governor by the President from a panel of four candidates to be elected by the members of the State Legislature or direct election by the people of the state.

Ultimately, the framers of the Constitution resolved that under the new constitutional scheme, the Governor was to be formal constitutional head with strictly limited powers that in the discharge of almost all his or her functions would be required to follow the advice of his or her Ministry. The Governor thus emerged as a nominal, titular constitutional head appointed by the President of India and holding office during pleasure of the President in accordance with Article 155 of the Constitution. But in effect, Governor is appointed by the President on the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers to him only as provided under Article 74 of the Constitution. Thus, persons of political affiliation to the ruling party at Centre, irrespective of their constitutional knowledge and eminence are appointed.

Due to this, the appointment of Governor by the President makes he or she, the true nominee of the Centre and more or less the agent of the Centre, rather than to work hand in hand with the democratically elected government and head of the State, that is, the Chief Minister through a popular vote to which he or she presides.

Though the Governor is the executive head of the State and a part of the State Legislature and the administration of the State is carried on in his or her name, the people of the State or their representatives have no say in the matter of his or her appointment. While the President is elected by the representatives of the people, namely, the Members of Parliament and the Members of the State Legislatures, the Governor is merely appointed by the President, which really means, by the Union Council of Ministers, and literally holds office at the pleasure of Prime Minister.

The words in Article 163 that 'there shall be Council of Ministers to advise the Governor in the exercise of his or her functions' really mean that the Governor shall act on the advice of the Council of Ministers only. The words in Article 164 of the Constitution that the Ministers 'shall hold office during pleasure of the Governor' are not intended to give the Governor the unlimited and untrammelled power over the tenure of the Ministers.

It was observed in the Constituent Assembly that the gubernatorial candidate should be of such calibre whose ability, wisdom and rectitude could not be questioned. The intention of the framers of the Constitutions was clear that they foresighted an impartial personality for the office of the Governor. Sarkaria Commission after reviewing the 30 years span of working of Constitution from the context of Centre-State relations made recommendations in regard to the appointment of Governors. They provided a criterion which is required to be followed by the constitutional functionaries while making appointment of Governors in the State.

The National Commission to Review the working of the Constitution recommended that the Governor should be appointed by the President, after consultation with Chief Minister of the State concerned. According to the Commission which observed that the role of Governors has come in for severe criticism, sometimes bordering on condemnation, in the context of reports they submit under and within the meaning of Article 356, many a Governor has not covered himself or herself with glory in that behalf.

Notwithstanding the recommendations guiding the discharge of their functions in the Sarkaria Commission Report and the decisions of the Conference of Governors, many Governors continue to behave in a manner not consistent with true spirit of the Constitution. Of late, some are even holding press meets and openly criticising the State government (At whose instance?), unaware of the fact that she or he is presiding over the criticism against his or her own government. Is it due to lack of knowledge of Constitution and conventions or over enthusiasm to please persons responsible for their appointment? Will this not lead to an unhealthy convention and precedence? Political analysts need to respond.

As long as the present arrangement of appointing Governors continues or until an amendment is made, it is better if the Constitutional provisions and thereby the limits specified therein are adhered to in letter and spirit. Let the students of social science, political science, public administration and constitution are not put to any confusion, please.

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