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  Opinion   Columnists  27 Nov 2023  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | The politics of governors: How Centre tackles states

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | The politics of governors: How Centre tackles states

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Nov 27, 2023, 11:38 pm IST
Updated : Nov 27, 2023, 11:38 pm IST

Kerala Guv Arif Khan should have known better than to use the office of governor as an obstacle in functioning of the CPI(M)-led-LDF govt

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan (PTI File Photo)
 Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan (PTI File Photo)

The post of the governor remains a constitutional anomaly. The governor is supposed to head the executive of the state in the same manner as the President is the head of the executive at the Centre. The President is an elected executive, chosen through the two Houses of Parliament and the state legislatures.

The governor, however, is appointed by the President. But the functions of the governor in the state are the same as that of the President. Article 53 vests the executive power of the Union in the President and Article 154 vests the executive power of the state with the governor, and Article 174 says: “There shall be a council of ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President…” Article 163 says: “There shall be a council of ministers with the chief minister at the head to aid and advise the governor…” There is a provision for the impeachment of the President in Article 61. There is no similar provision for the governor.

We know that the President’s authority is nominal and real power lies with the Prime Minister and his or her party which has a majority in the Lok Sabha. Though the President appoints the governor and the governor holds his/her office at the pleasure of the President, the fact is the governor is nominated by the ruling party at the Centre. And the governor is beholden to the Prime Minister and the ruling party. In political terms, the governor is an agent of the Centre and of the Prime Minister in the state. We have been talking too piously about how the governor is a constitutional head and he or she has to fulfil constitutional duties. The governor becomes an office of divided loyalties when the ruling parties at the Centre and in the state are opposed to each other.

The Congress, in its long years in power at the Centre, set a precedent of using the governor in confronting the state governments run by other political parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party has been following in the footsteps of the Congress, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has left no stone unturned as it were in sending governors to states ruled by other parties with the plain intention of harassing them. The governors of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Punjab and the lieutenant-governor of the National Capital Territory of Delhi have been doing their best to frustrate the state governments under the DMK, Left Democratic Front (LDF), the All-India Trinamul Congress (AITMC) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It would be naïve to expect the Narendra Modi government to play fair when the rulebook can be used to play foul. The long-term solution would be to change the mode of appointment of governors, but there is every possibility that move can end up in a rigmarole of rules as in the appointment of the election commissioners, the Lok Pal and the director of the CBI, which remain unsatisfactory.

The Supreme Court verdict of November 10 in a case filed by the Punjab government against its governor, Mr Banwari Lal Purohit, said that the governor cannot withhold assent to bills passed by the state legislature indefinitely. But it is quite an embarrassing situation when state governments have to approach the Supreme Court against governors. When the Supreme Court held that the lieutenant-governor of Delhi cannot veto the state legislature, then the Modi government brought an amendment in Parliament overturning it. What the Supreme Court has to say about the supremacy of elected legislatures against unelected governors is commonsensical and unexceptionable, but the Modi government will find ways to subvert the judicial view.

The parties in power at the Centre tend to think and act with an imperial mindset. It was so with the Congress governments, it was so with the non-Congress governments of the Janata Party, the National Front, the United Democratic Front and the BJP. The headiness of ruling a vast country like India is perhaps understandable, but not forgivable. India cannot be governed from Delhi, and this was the theme song of the BJP when it was confined to state governments.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a prominent anti-Delhi voice when he was chief minister of Gujarat. It is the BJP governments in the states which used to berate the governors appointed by the Congress when it was in power at the Centre. Mr Modi is only repeating all the political sins that he used to accuse the Congress of in violating the spirit of federalism.

Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who has now become an ardent right-wing politician, should have known better than to use the office of governor as an obstacle in the functioning of the CPI(M)-led-LDF government. Mr Khan can be ideologically opposed to the Communists but an experienced politician should know that he should not interfere in the democratic process of governance. The governor is not a class monitor nor a teacher to correct the biases of the state government. Tamil Nadu governor R.N. Ravi has expressed his opposition to the ideology of the DMK and to Dravidian politics, and this bias plays a role in his withholding assent to bills, especially with regard to appointment of vice-chancellors of universities in the state. It is quite clear that the Tamil Nadu governor would want to appoint right-wing vice-chancellors. But that would be misusing the powers of the governor because the universities in the state are funded by the state government.

There was a similar confrontation when then West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar wanted to use his power as governor to appoint vice-chancellors in the state.

It is a fact that every party in power, whether in the states or the Centre, is appointing vice-chancellors to universities who believe in the party’s ideology. So, the BJP appoints Hindutva-leaning vice-chancellors in all Central universities, and in the states where the party is in power. The erstwhile CPI(M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal had appointed leftist vice-chancellors to the universities in the state. It can be criticised, but that is the imperfect way that democracies work. So, if the state governments want to pass a bill in their legislatures vesting the power of appointing vice-chancellors in the state government, then they are justified. But unelected governors can’t be allowed to have their way to carry out the ideological biases of the party in power at the Centre.

Tags: rn ravi, arif mohammed khan