Millennium Post

No more musical chairs!

Each time a new government assumes office at the Centre, the office of governors lands into controversy. The appointment, removal dons great significance as successive governments have viewed Raj Bhavans as either residence to oblige loyal aides, luxurious places where difficult colleagues can be ‘kicked upstairs’, even comfortable post-retirement positions for servile former bureaucrats or defence officers. Part of the problem stems from how the political class views the position of governors and their utility.

The practice of removing governors began in 1977 when the Janata Party sacked several governors appointed by Indira Gandhi’s regime. In 1980, Indira Gandhi bounced back into office and paid back in the same coin and thus began the practice. The decision in 1977 was taken by the first ever non-Congress government formed at the Centre on an anti-emergency wave and was justified as reflecting the will of the people.

A similar situation arose in 2004 after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power after drubbing the Vajpayee-led National democratic Alliance  (NDA) at the hustling. Public Interest Litigation (Civil W.P. No 296 of 2004, B P Singhal vs. Union of India) was filed in the wake of the removal of the governors of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Goa on
2 July 2004 by the President of India on the advice of the council of ministers led by the UPA government. Supreme Court ruled that the governors cannot be removed on grounds of ‘lack of confidence’ or ‘conflict of political and ideological opinions’ with the party in power at the Centre. The constitution bench held that the arbitrary removal of a governor was subject to a ‘limited
judicial review’.

The court held ‘change in government at the Centre is not a ground for removal of governors holding office to make way for others favoured by the new government’. Writing the judgment for the constitution bench, Justice Raveendran said that under the constitution there was no need to assign the reasons for the removal of a governor. ‘As there is no need to assign reasons, any removal as a consequence of withdrawal of the pleasure (of the president on the advice of central government) will be assumed to be valid and will be open to only a limited judicial review.’

The court held that if a governor, removed without assigning reasons, moved the apex court and is able to ‘demonstrate prima facie that his removal was either arbitrary, malafide, capricious or whimsical, the court will call upon the government to disclose to the court the material upon which the President had taken the decision to withdraw the pleasure’.

The judgment said, ‘If the government does not disclose any reason, or if the reasons disclosed are found to be irrelevant, arbitrary, and whimsical or malafide, the court will interfere. However, the court will not interfere merely on the ground that a different view is possible or that the material or reasons are insufficient.’ The court maintained that though no reasons were needed to be assigned for discontinuance of the pleasure of the president under Article 156(1), the exercise of such a power could not be in ‘an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner.

The present government has received a mandate unprecedented in last three decades. Unlike Vajpayee or Manmohan who had to compromise because of coalition politics, Modi faces no such compulsion from either coalition partners or party colleagues. He displayed the power of his unprecedented mandate while forming the council of ministers, allocating portfolios and when he established direct channels of communication with secretaries of ministries. One expected, therefore, Modi to be more forthright in nipping any exercise that paints his government in a bad light. Yet, the prime minister has chosen to ignore reports and allowed the matter of removing governors to become an intense controversy. The parties coming to power at the Centre should respect the constitution and the judgment of the apex court in appointment and removal of the governors. The office of the governor should not be viewed merely as a political appointment but as an institution which is created under the constitution by the fore founders and therefore the sanctity of the office must be maintained at all cost.

The argument advanced by certain quarters that with new government at the Centre all governors must resign and allow the new government to appoint the governors who are in sync with the policies and agenda of the central government. They forget that ours is a federal system under which the government at the Centre and at the state may be headed by different political parties with different ideologies and political compulsions and equations. If tomorrow the President is not in sync with central government, does that mean that the president must resign? That is quiet an unacceptable preposition.

Modi’s government has received a huge mandate cutting across caste, religion, region so as to say breaking all barriers seen or known in Indian politics in last 30 years. This vote has been a vote for hope, aspiration, dream, faith for developed, strong and a vibrant India. This opportunity must not go waste at any cost and Modi must desist from the politics of confrontation with respect to constitutional post and continue on the path of inclusive politics which he stated while addressing his party members for the first time in the central Parliamentary hall, the temple of world’s largest democracy.

The author is an advocate
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