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The Rediff Special/Krishna Prasad
All you want to know about governors controversy
July 05, 2004
What's the hoo-ha about governors all about?
The United Progressive Alliance government has dismissed four governors -- Kidar Nath Sahni (Goa), Kailashpati Mishra (Gujarat), Babu Parmanand (Haryana) and Vishnu Kant Shastri (Uttar Pradesh) -- who had been appointed during the tenure of the previous National Democratic Alliance government.
Does the government have the power to dismiss governors?
Under Article 156 (1) of the Constitution, the governor of a state holds his office at the pleasure of the President. But the President acts by the advice of the government in power in such matters. Which is why the news of the dismissal came from the Centre, although a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique had already notified that the said governors 'shall cease to hold
office of governor of their respective states.'
Has a President dismissed a governor similarly in the past?
He has. In October 1980, then Tamil Nadu governor Prabhudas Patwari was dismissed, demonstrating that the President's 'pleasure' under Article 156 (1) can be used by the prime minister to dismiss any governor for political reasons, and without assigning any cause. And in 1981, then Rajasthan governor Raghulal Tilak too was dismissed from office.
What does the Constitution say about dismissing governors mid-course?
First things first, let's clarify this: there is no 'fixed tenure' for governors, as the BJP contends. The normal tenure of a governor's office is five years, but it may be terminated earlier by a. dismissal by the President, at whose 'pleasure' he holds the office, as has happened, or b. by resignation.
What are the grounds under which a governor can be dismissed?
Article 156 does not lay down the grounds upon which a governor may be removed by the President, nor does it require that the reasons be disclosed. It is assumed that the President shall use the power to meet with cases of gross delinquency such as bribery, corruption, treason and the like, or conduct unbecoming of the high office, or violative of the Constitution.
Were any of the sacked governors guilty of such misdemeanours?
Is there any indication why these four governors had to go?
The UPA has not specified any reason. But the general consensus is that the four governors were dismissed because of a combination of one or more of these factors: a. they were political appointees who had been sent to their respective states with a specific purpose, b. they made no effort to hide their RSS-BJP background when in office, or c. they refused to get the hint and resign on their own after the change of government at the Centre.
Anything more incriminating?
OK, since you ask. Of the four sacked governors, Bhai Parmanand (Haryana) is reported to have made an open appeal to an audience in Rewari to vote for Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the run-up to the election. Kidar Nath Sahni (Goa) was recently in a big flap recently over charges that he had tried to frame a Delhi event manager to cover up a 'video cassette.'
Were these the only four governors appointed by the NDA government?
No. There were others, too, like T N Chaturvedi (Karnataka), Madan Lal Khurana (Rajasthan) and M Rama Jois (Jharkhand). But they were untouched. Pondicherry Lieutenant Governor N N Jha left before the controversy broke. Jha, a former IFS officer, had been in the eye of a storm ever since he invited BJP candidate Lalitha Kumaramangalam to a Raj Bhavan party during the Lok Sabha election campaign.
Why did the UPA dismiss some BJP-appointed Governors and retain some?
No idea. Probably because Chaturvedi has just few months to go before he remits office. Probably because Khurana was only recently made governor. Probably because Rama Jois, a former high court chief justice, would contest such a dismissal in a court of law. Probably because it thought the others were doing less damage to the office of governor. Or probably it's only a matter of time before they too are asked to go, although....
Although Rama Jois' role as Jharkhand governor came for sharp criticism for the tone he adopted in a Republic Day address. And although Khurana has been trying to shore up his political profile in Rajasthan by holding public durbars, pretty much like a chief minister.
What does the BJP say about the dismissals?
It says the UPA government has demonstrated 'gross constitutional impropriety' and shown scant regard for tradition and the dignity of the high office. It says it is a sad day for our democracy when governors are dismissed for the simple sin of holding a political view or ideology contrary to that of the government in power.
And what is the Congress response to that?
The Congress says the four governors were sacked not because they belonged to a particular political party but because they were 'for a long time associated with the Sangh Parivar.' (In fact, Union Minister of State for Home Prakash Jaiswal is reported to have told sacked Goa Governor Kidar Nath Sahni on the telephone that the UPA government had problems only with governors with an RSS background.)
Since the RSS is not a banned organisation, can it be held against the governors?
No, but the Congress seems to think so. But the Congress's biggest defence is that it has only done what previous governments had done upon coming to power. Tu-tu-main-main.
So, such a thing has happened before?
Of course, it has. In December 1989, on the advice of the National Front government of V P Singh, the President asked all the governors to resign simply because another party had come to power at the Centre. In 1998, when the BJP came to power for the first time, then Union Home Secretary B P Singh was reported to have asked three governors (in Gujarat, Goa and Mizoram) and three lieutenant governors (Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar, and Pondicherry) to put in their papers.
Wait a minute, are you saying the BJP is guilty of the same transgression?
Yes. In fact, the then Gujarat governor Krishna Pal Singh was quoted in The Hindu (April 15, 1998) as saying that the Union home secretary had informed him that it was the Centre's 'wish' that he resign. He was not given the option of a transfer to another state. The feeling gained ground that the BJP had a score to settle with him, for dismissing the Suresh Mehta ministry in that state. In other words, the BJP saw K P Singh as a 'political appointee' much like the UPA is now seeing the just-sacked governors.
But I don't hear the BJP spokesmen admitting to this?
Of course, you won't. The BJP is now bending backwards to say that it respected the dignity of the high office by allowing governors appointed by the previous government to continue in office till their term lapsed. But the truth is it, too, asked governors whom it did not see eye-to-eye with, ideologically, to quit. Not only did it ask political appointees like K P Singh to quit, it showed the door to non-political appointees too.
Like T R Satish Chandran, the retired IAS officer and principal secretary to then prime minister H D Deve Gowda, who was doing duty as governor of Goa. Like A P Mukherjee, the retired IPS officer and advisor to then Union home minister Indrajit Gupta. Like Tejinder Khanna, the former commerce secretary, who was lieutenant governor of Delhi. In fact, at the BJP's national council meeting in Gandhingar on May 4, 1998, L K Advani pointedly defended political appointments to gubernatorial positions, arguing that the party was never in agreement with the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations on the subject.
The Sarkaria Commission?
The Commission headed by Justice Rajinder Singh Sarkaria, which went into Centre-State relations. Appointed at a time when it had become the norm for central governments to dismiss state governments using Article 356 and using pliant governors who sent the kind of reports the Centre wanted to receive, the Sarkaria Commission said governors should not be appointed without consulting the states they were being sent to.
More importantly, it suggested that 'persons who have not taken too great a part in politics generally and particularly in the recent past' should not be appointed governors. The Constitution Review Panel headed by former Chief Justice M N Venkatachalliah supported Justice Sarkaria's recommendations.
So, why is the BJP crying foul now?
One, because this is just the kind of issue that is meat and drink to any good Opposition party. And two, as the Congress' Salman Khursheed points out, because it is still to come to terms with the fact that it lost the general election. So, any issue that it can berate the new government with comes in handy. First it was the issue of tainted ministers, now it is
dismissal of the four governors.
Will the BJP challenge the dismissals in a court of law?
To do so would be to play into the hands of the Congress, which will go to town saying that this only proves that the appointments were political in the first place. So, while the party as an organisation, may not challenge the dismissals, it is likely to encourage the sacked governors to seek legal recourse, if they are so inclined.
Has any sacked governor gone to court in the past?
When then Rajasthan governor Raghulal Tilak was removed from office in 1981, the state high court held that Presidential pleasure contemplated in Article 156 was 'not justiciable.' Supreme Court lawyer M N Krishnamani is quoted as saying that there is a petition pending before a five-judge bench filed by an advocate and office-bearer of the Congress that governors should not be removed on the 'pleasure' of the President.
So will the BJP rest content leaving the matter to the sacked governors?
Unlikely. In sacking the governors on the eve of the commencement of the Budget session of Parliament, the UPA government has handed the Opposition a potent issue on a platter. The first session of the 14th Lok Sabha was stalled on the 'tainted ministers' issue. The second session promises to be no less acrimonious.
Since everybody is talking of the dignity of the high office, couldn't the hovernors have left on their own?
They could have. And a couple of them actually did. Like Pondicherry Lieutenant Governor N N Jha and Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vijai Kapoor. But the others didn't especially after the BJP instructed governors appointed by it not to budge and make things easy for the UPA. The Centre tried to 'pressure' such governors to put in their papers, contending that it was better that they made way silently, without kicking and screaming. But some like Rama Jois (Jharkhand), who was the VHP's legal advisor in the Ayodhya case, publicly refused.
Couldn't the UPA government have tried to convince the BJP leaders?
It did. Home Minister Shivraj Patil is reported to have telephoned L K Advani and asked him to ask the governors to put in their papers. But Advani is said to have flatly refused, saying the governors were holding a constitutional office and were no longer 'BJP men.'
What kind of governors does the UPA want to appoint?
The very same kind the NDA did. It has sent former Lok Sabha speaker Balram Jakhar to Madhya Pradesh, who has arrived in Bhopal amid rumours that he has been sent to make things difficult for Uma Bharati. Not surprisingly, she did not turn up at the airport to receive Jakhar.
The UPA has sent former Union minister Raghunandan Lal Bhatia to Kerala. Fortunately, Bhatia has shown signs of sticking to propriety. He refused to sign an ordinance moved by the A K Antony government, saying he could introduce it as a Bill in the assembly due to meet in two days' time.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. The Congress does what the BJP did. The BJP denies it ever did anything improper. The Congress is poised to use the Raj Bhavans as a sinecure for trusted loyalists. And the BJP appears set to disrupt Parliament proceedings and waste public money all in the name of the people.
Why didn't the UPA let the governors' terms lapse before appointing its own men and avert this unseemly controversy?