Does India really need Governors?

Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Puducherry and now West Bengal. The focus is on the Governor. Never before has the constitutional…

Does India really need Governors?

West Bengal governor (Photo: Facebook)

Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Puducherry and now West Bengal. The focus is on the Governor. Never before has the constitutional head of a state been exposed to public discourse, debate and legal scrutiny as in the recent past. Be it in the formation of government after an election or calling for a report from the political executive on the state’s affairs, his action, rather motive, falls short of the expectation of neutrality of the solemn office he holds.

An uncanny feeling haunts the observer that he is singing the tune of his employer. In Goa, the governor did not consult the single largest party, the Congress, before giving Parrikar the green signal.

The constitutional convention of inviting the single largest party in the case of a fractured mandate has been outlined by the Sarkaria Commission, later affirmed by a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court in Rameswar Prasad vs Union of India, 2005. The Puducherry Lieutenant-Governor has unilaterally nominated three defeated BJP candidates as MLAs and swore them in on 4 July without consulting the elected CM or the council of ministers.


It would have been gracious for the West Bengal governor had he summoned the Chief Minister or any senior minister or chief secretary/D.G of police for an urgent one-to-one meeting to be apprised of the situation on the emotive communal flareup at Baduria and in some parts of Basirhat. Whether there was any immediate provocation behind the use of telephone to convey his anxiety may have to await a wellresearched probe, though a worthy of the central committee of the BJP has left no one in doubt by instantaneously describing the governor as ‘a soldier of Modi Brigade.’

The role of the governor between1947 and 1967 when the Congress was having a clear majority at the Centre and in most of the states was not a matter of public controversy, and had least attention paid to it. Sarojini Naidu, one-time governor of UP said that she considered herself “a bird in a golden cage”. Even during this period, the position assigned to them by the Constitution made some of the illustrious governors very unhappy.

Dr.Pattabhi Sitaramayya, governor of Madhya Pradesh had this to say, “My duties as a governor lay more in getting visitors and providing them tea, lunches and dinners than anything else.

The first thing I do in the morning is to peruse the list of visitors and invitees to lunch and dinner.” Mrs.Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, governor of Maharashtra, was of the view that the office of the governor should be abolished. She felt that the only thing that could induce a person to accept governorship was the salary that the office carried.

KM Munshi, governor of Uttar Pradesh had a tiff with his chief minister and complained to Pandit Nehru for redressal. When his plea was turned down, he described his job thus: “to run a hotel and entertain guests.” NVGadgil, governor of Punjab considered himself as “the Patwari of the state of Punjab whose function was to assess the conditions prevailing in the state and report to the Union government.” Post-1967 and especially after 1977, coalition governments started assuming office in states and at the Centre. Regional parties gained a strong foothold. The federalism debate gathered momentum. In actual working, in states where one party has a clear majority, the part played by the governor has been that of a constitutional head in the matter of asking the leader of that party to form the ministry.

But in those states where there are multiple parties with an uncertain command over the Legislature,the governor has acted as a mere agent of the Centre in matters relating to inviting a person to form a ministry, or bringing about the removal of a ministry by means of a report under Article 356.

The grounds upon which a governor may be removed by the President are not laid down in the Constitution. Hopefully, this power will be sparingly used to meet with cases of gross delinquency like bribery, corruption, treason or violation of the Constitution.

A glaring exception to this sound principle took place when the President, on the advice of the National Front prime minister VP Singh, in December 1989 asked all governors to resign simply because another party had come to power at the Centre. A key element in the federalism debate is the appointment of partisan governors by the Centre in states ruled by the party in power or in oppositionruled states.The constitutional role of the governor is restricted to acting on the advice of the state Cabinet.

He/shehas no independent executive power except where there is no majority government in place. Given this reality, and given the unabashed hypocrisy with which governments at the Centre(Congress, UPA, NDA) have manipulated governors in the past, it is high time to ask: do we need a governor at all? Is it for ceremonial occasions or for that transitory period during ministry-formation or to offer favours to defeated, disgraced and unemployed party stalwarts and politicians?

Sometimes, the idea of an elected governor, as in the United States, is floated if the suggestion for abolishing the post is overruled. If presidents can be elected, why is this idea not favoured for appointment of governors? Why should the Centre appoint governors without a state's consent and inform the states ex-post-facto just to complete the formality?

True federalism means that formation of governments at both Centre and states should be contingent on the principle that elected governments will hold the reins of power without an unelected governor coming in between. The US example may not suit us since our Constitution does not envisage a presidential system of government.

Besides, in case of an elected governor, two rival centres of power will be engaged in outsmarting each other resulting in chaos and administrative deadlock. So,what is the alternative?

After demonetisation and GST it will be a challenge to the NDA government to firm up a case for abolition of the post of governor. Rehabilitation of the deadwood of his party should not deter the prime minister from accepting this challenge.

After all, do we really need a “spare wheel” at the statelevel?

The writer is a former Joint Secretary to the Government of West Bengal.