'Conscience' of highest offices
There is a dire need for a very fine balance and inviolable respect for the tenets and limits of the Constitutional framework.
The Indian tradition and expectations of the gubernatorial appointees go beyond the mandate 'to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the law as incorporated in his/her oath of office under Article 159 of the Indian Constitution. The nominal head of the State/UT proximate a President, and bears a unique and inviolable power of 'conscience', besides the codified executive powers, legislative powers, financial powers and even discretionary powers, that he/she could bear upon the urgency-of-the-moment to ensure the upholding of the Constitutional spirit and clauses. Given the vibrancy, creativity, and chaos of our political culture, the Governor acts as the apolitical anchor and 'conscience keeper', who is institutionally above the liberties, recklessness, and creative-interpretations that could militate against the Constitutional profundity and dignity of India. Even though the said appointees, usually have had an active political past and affiliations, the subsequent conduct, post-adoring the Constitutional chair ought to be one of unimpeachable, impartial and unbiased manner in upholding the constitutional sobriety. Like the proverbial 'Caesar's wife who ought not even to be under suspicion', the displayed language and bearing of the Constitutional appointees are expected to reflect and personify that innate sense of rectitude, restraint, and stateliness that cannot be questioned for any political, moral or financial liberty. Therefore, the appointees to the highest offices of the land are not usually the highest in the political-ranks, but those of the unquestionable scholarship, monumental attainments and sagacity like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Zakir Husain, KR Narayanan, and APJ Abdul Kalam. Such frequent tenures of majestic distinction, masterly conduct, and constitutional acuity has ensured the overall faith and retention of the Constitutional instincts and spirit in public life.
Sadly, the recent portents of political taints, laxities, and compromises of the various Constitutional institutions has gained fears in recent times with the talks of 'impeachment' in the judicial domain, liberal grant of Constitutional privileges to various godmen and acts of partisan behaviour that do not behoove the constitutional impartiality. While incidents of individual culpability and state interferences onto the Constitutional spirit, have been a feature since Independence with all dispensations who are collectively guilty of the same, it has now acquired a more deep-rooted, brazen and disagreeable form. The recent incident of a gubernatorial appointee patting the cheek of a young journalist, as she posed an uncomfortable question, was rightfully slammed for its inappropriateness. Thankfully, an explanatory apology was offered and a qualified-acceptance of the same, made by the journalist in question, however, she reiterated that she was not, "convinced about your contention that you did it appreciate a question I asked". An apt point was later made by a lady lawmaker who noted, "Even if the intention is above suspicion, a person who holds public office has to understand that there is a decorum to it and violating a woman journalist's personal space does not reflect the dignity or the respect which should be shown to any human being".
The Constitutional institution also gets sullied when incumbents display certain perceived 'political activism' by their willful conduct. As the first citizen of the State/UT and the 'conscience keeper' of his/her council of ministry, the gubernatorial appointee ought to placate and handle the political dissonance and rabidity with maturity, wisdom, and accommodation. In one of the UT's, the Constitutional appointee did not help matters when she decided to go public with her angst and disagreement against her own ministry by stating, "My request for a liberal interpretation of the Union Territory as part of the Central Government met with resistance from my own elected government for obvious reasons" and added, "My goal was justice for students. I do not know theirs". While the actions, statements, and the tone of the elected representatives and the governmental officials can be openly political and accusative, however, it is the onus of the Constitutional appointee to rise above the political din and nuance his/her position on such dissonance. As rightly pointed by the same Constitutional appointee that the office is, "not one of a bystander, but an intervenor and preventor of injustice" – however, the form and expression that the corrective intervention takes, needs delicate handling, stewardship, and statesmanship. The optics and phraseology are also important as one of the Constitutional appointees in a Northeastern state recently retorted to accusations of political bias in his conduct, made by the Leftist parties by tweeting, "Now a Comrade has discovered the letter and is jumping around with the glee of Columbus discovering America. LOL!" While the accusation matter itself may not have merited much considerations, except that twitter handle of the said constitutional appointee still reads, "Right-wing Hindu socio-political thinker, writer, ideologue"!
There is a dire need for a very fine balance and inviolable respect for the tenets and limits of the Constitutional framework that needs to be displayed in the workings of the constitutional appointees. Former President KR Narayanan was a classic case of a Constitutional appointee who enhanced the dignity of the President of India by moving from a 'Rubber Stamp' perception to that of a 'Working President' or 'Citizen President' that he called himself. He personified the ideal guardianship of the Constitution by gently showcasing his 'conscience' concern against the government recommendations by the simple act of, 'returning the files for reconsideration'. While this act was only morally and symbolically powerful (given that he would have had to accept the recommendation, had it been re-sent for his assent), the dispensation of the day showed matching political grace in retracting from resending the file. Presciently, KR Narayanan had likened the idea of tinkering with the Constitution as having, "the shades of the political ideas of Field Marshal Ayub Khan" and had insisted on upholding the Constitutional decorum by noting that, "under the flexible and spacious provisions of our Constitution during the last 50 years India has achieved an unprecedented unity and cohesion". Today more than ever, we need such profound Constitutionalists to uphold that lofty 'conscience' of India and its inherent decency.
Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. The views are strictly personal