Of all the constitutional posts in the country, the Governor has no security whatsoever. Article 156(1) of the Constitution says the Governor (including Lieutenant Governor) shall hold office during the pleasure of the President.
On Tuesday, 16 February, President Ram Nath Kovind issued an order that Kiran Bedi ceased to hold the office of Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry which meant he had withdrawn his pleasure. The President at the same time appointed Tamilisai Soundararajan, Governor of Telangana, “to discharge the functions of the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, in addition to her own duties, with effect from the date she assumes charge of her office until regular arrangements for the office of Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry are made.”
Bedi was not even asked to continue in office till her successor was sworn in. As a result of this unusual order of the President, the Union Territory remained headless till Thursday, 19 February. Abrupt removal of a Governor creates a constitutional vacuum which can be filled only when the successor assumes office.
Traditionally, the Tamil Nadu Governor is given additional charge of Puducherry whenever such a situation arises. This is the first time the Governor of distant Telangana has been given concurrent charge.She happens to be a former president of the BJP in Tamil Nadu. Puducherry goes to the polls in less than three months and the BJP is determined to capture power in this southern Union Territory.
Although the Supreme Court in BP Singh v Union of India upheld the President’s power to remove a governor any time without giving any reason and without granting an opportunity to be heard, it made it clear that this power could not be exercised in an “arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner.”
Since the Constitution does not spell out how to remove a Governor, Article 156(1) is used to get rid of unwanted Governors, but the normal practice is to request such Governors to resign. Only if they refuse to resign is Article 156(1) applied.
Apparently, Ms Bedi was not extended the courtesy of being asked to resign, especially after she had contributed to making Puducherry a potential BJP territory in the last four years. When she assumed office as Lt Governor on 29 May 2016, the BJP had no presence in the Puducherry Assembly. Taking advantage of Section 3(3) of the Union Territories Act, 1963, which says, “the Centre may nominate not more than three persons not being in the service of the government to the Assembly of the UT,” Ms Bedi nominated three BJP men to the Puducherry Assembly. They even got voting rights vide a Supreme Court order.
With the resignation of two Congress MLAs earlier this week preparatory to joining the BJP, Chief Minister Narayanaswamy has lost majority in the House. The new Lt Governor has directed the Assembly Secretariat to convene the House on Monday, 22 February, for a single agenda session to determine whether the Chief Minister enjoys the confidence of the Assembly or not and the voting should be done by show of hands. Que sera, sera.