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Why fire without any smoke

Why fire without any smoke
It is unfortunate but true; the gubernatorial office is used for rehabilitation of political leaders who have been rejected by the people, could not be accommoded in the government, battled-scared veterans and favourite officers. Both the Congress and the BJP have used Raj Bhavans as retired homes for politicians who have to be dropped from the ministry and favoured officers who have to be rewarded for services rendered by them.

That explains why when a new dispensation comes to power at the centre, it asks the governors appointed by the previous regime to quit. The office of the governor has been used in a partisan manner by all political dispensations beginning with the Janata Government, which in 1977 used governors to dismiss congress governments in nine states. Indira Gandhi who returned to power in 1980 imposed the President’s rule in equal number of states run by the Janata Party.
Although a Governor is meant to perform an important Constitutional role in a federal system, when put to test, he generally tends to function as a keeper of those who had appointed him. Only rarely a governor has fulfilled his constitutional obligation in a non-partisan manner, namely to see that a state government is run in accordance with the Constitution, and to act as a guide to the state government, irrespective of his party affiliation.

Now Narendra Modi government is indiscreetly trying to remove few governors, as if, it is a replay of what the UPA-I did a decade ago. In 2004, the UPA government removed some governors appointed by the NDA regime that preceded it, and the present dispensation wants to follow that precedent.
The difference between 2004 and the present is quite marked. Until 2010, the predominant notion was that since a Governor holds office at the pleasure of the President, subject to five-year term, he/she could be removed at any time and for no reason at the instance of the Centre. However, in B P Singhal Vs Union of India, the apex court ruled that a Governor’s removal is justiciable and there should be good, valid and compelling reason for such a removal. The power should not be exercised arbitrarily, capriciously or in an unreasonable.

The view that a new regime can remove a Governor on the ground that he is out of sync with the policies and ideology of the party in power at the Centre or that the ruling party has lost confidence in him, has been rejected by the Supreme Court.

It is quite ironic that the BJP, which was aggrieved by the removal of its appointees as soon as the UPA took charge in 2004, is now in a hurry to ease out at least some of the UPA appointees. L K Advani had observed in 2004 ‘what has been done now with governors has weakened the federal structure of the country. I regard the doctrine, which has been propounded,  that they have an ideology which is different from ours and that will create problems, as an outrageous assault on the concept of multi-party democracy enshrined in the Constitution’, Advani said, appealing to then Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, to reconsider sacking governors of his party.

The apex court’s ruling now makes removal of governors a lot more complicated. Sacked Governors can approach the Court if a prima facie case of arbitrariness is established. The Union Government can then be asked to furnish evidence that the Governor was removed for ‘good and compelling reasons’. If a few of Congress-appointed governors challenge the Centre in the Supreme Court, it could be embarrassing for the government. Doubtless, the governors in question are Congress loyalists, but the Centre has not yet made a compelling case for their dismissal.

It is evident that the Narendra Modi Government wishes to replace governors of several states coming down from the time of the UPA because it would like its own ‘agents’ lodged in those states, not the least because some of them have Congress Governments on which the Centre may like to keep a special eye. There is also need to accommodate senior BJP politicians who could not be made ministers.

The BJP has a number of veterans – former UP Speaker Keshrinath Tripathi, Kerala veteran O. Rajagopal, former Union Minister Ram Naik, Delhi BJP leader V K Malhotra and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha – who can be accommodated in Raj Bhavans. Former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh is rated as favourite, but does not want to quit politics.

The government has option to transfer Governors, who refuse to quit, to smaller states. But some like M K Narayanan (West Bengal) or B V Wanchoo (Goa), who were involved ‘in the decision-making process’, may have tough time. The CBI has said ‘it has become imperative to examine both Narayanan and Wanchoo in order to enable investigation (in the Augusta Westland chopper deal) to proceed to logical ends’.

The CBI has sought permission to examine the two Governors. The Centre is of the view that there was no constitutional bar to examine governors as witnesses to a criminal case, especially when the CBI suspects they had played a key role in the lowering of parameters to enable Agusta-Westland shake off disqualification.
Harihar Swarup

Harihar Swarup

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