PM’s close look at governors
The Congress has shrunk to lowest-ever size of 44 in the 16th Lok Sabha but as many as 18 Congressmen continue to occupy gubernatorial office. Will it be possible for the Narendra Modi government to remove them? Going by a Supreme Court ruling, it is not possible to replace governors but going by past practice they can be easily replaced and sacked, if they refuse to step down. However, the new Prime Minister’s hands are tied by a verdict of five-judge bench of the apex court as far back as May, 2010, disapproving the practice of replacing governors after a new government comes to power at the centre. The ruling says ‘the governors are appointed for a fixed five-year term and as such they cannot be changed in an arbitrary and capricious manner.’ The governor cannot be removed merely because they are ‘not in sync’ with the party in power unless there are compelling reasons for proving misconduct and irregularities, says the apex court’s ruling.
Ironically, it was the BJP which had challenged the UPA government for sacking, not all, but four governors, having RSS background, appointed by Atal Behari Vajpayee Government. They were Vishnu Kant Shastri (UP), Kailashpati Mishra (Gujarat), Babu Parmanand (Haryana) and Kidar Nath Sahani (Goa). Appearing for the petitioner, former Attorney General, Soli Sorabji, had argued that constitutional office holders should not be made sacrificial goats at the alter of electoral politics and should be treated with dignity they deserve. He had suggested a fixed tenure for governors and in case of their removal, the President should furnish reasons.
Now the BJP faces similar situation which the Congress encountered in 2004. The regime change at the centre is expected to initiate a review of gubernatorial appointments. But the BJP has decided to move with caution, allowing incumbents, near the completion of their terms, to complete their tenures.
A look at the remaining tenure of governors appointed by erstwhile UPA government indicates that at least six incumbents – H R Bharadwaj (Karnataka), B L Joshi (UP), S C Jamir (Odisha), Margaret Alva (Rajasthan), Jagannath Pahadia (Haryana) and Devanand Kunwar (Tripura) – may be allowed to continue as their terms expire in a month or two.
However, the ones who have a longer tenure left may have to immediately make way for BJP appointees. This means that Sheila Dikshit, who was made Kerala Governor only in March, this year, could be on her way out. There are other governors with four to eight months of their tenures still remaining. They are Kamla Beniwal (Gujarat), who had an uneasy relationship with Narendra Modi when he was chief minister; J B Patnaik (Assam), Shivraj Patil (Punjab) and Urmila Singh (Himachal). The Modi government will have to weigh whether to let them complete their terms or not. Beniwal, a former Rajasthan minister, had often been in the news for crossing sword with Modi when he was chief minister.
Other UPA appointees whose terms are most likely to be up for review are Dadasehab Patil (Sikkim), D Y Patil (Bihar), K Shankarnaraynan (Maharashtra), Aziz Qureshi (Uttarakhand), K. Rosaiah (Tamil Nadu), Vokkam Purushothaman (Mizoram), Syed Ahmed (Jharkhand) and Ram Naresh Yadav (Madhya Pradesh). As regards former bureaucrats or senior army officers occupying Raj Bhavans, the list mostly includes incumbents who were either appointed in 2012-2013 or are in first half of their second term. While Andhra Pradesh Governor E S L Narasimhan and his West Bengal counterpart M K Narayanan have tenure till 2017, J&K Governor N N Vohra’s term expires even later in 2018. Though the BJP may have to carefully weigh Narasimhan’s removal, given that the bifurcation process of Andhra Pradesh is under way; Narayanan and Vohra have a slim chance of holding.
Other bureaucrats/army officials who are awaiting BJP government’s call are Goa governor and alleged Gandhi family loyalist, B V Wanchoo, Manipur’s governor, V K Duggal, who has briefly completed five months in office, Chhattisgarh governor, Shekhar Dutt, Arunachal Governor Lt. Gen (Retd.) Nirbhay Sharma, Nagaland governor and former CBI Chief Ashwani Kumar and Meghalaya governor K K Paul. It is entirely up to the new government to decide their fate. Some may be retained, some politely asked by the home secretary to quit. In the BJP, there are aspirants, who could not make it to Lok Sabha or denied tickets, to become governor. Shiv Sena leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Manohar Joshi and the BJP veteran Ram Naik may be considered for gubernatorial post. Naik said he would accept any responsibility given to him by the party.
Naik, a five-term member of Parliament, held railway and petroleum portfolios in the 1999-2004 NDA government. Joshi enjoys a good rapport with Modi. The Modi government decision to peg the size of council of ministers at a record low of 45 might have easily disappointed many aspirants who did not find berth in the government. But they need not lose hope since many high profile governors are due to retire in the next six months. IPA