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Constitution is the Casualty in Governor's Conduct

By Aditi Phadnis
November 27, 2021 10:10 IST
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The Congress used Raj Bhavans to topple legally elected governments.
The BJP is letting governors get away with all manner of impropriety, notes Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, left, with Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar at Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, May 3, 2021. Photograph: PTI Photo

The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be having a run of bad luck with governors.

Some of these Constitutional personages, who should only be seen, never heard, have been remarkably loquacious.

Nor is this a recent development. When the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014, cooperative federalism became the buzzword.

But the role of governor was never reviewed.

 

Problems started from the word go. Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, an IAS officer from Assam, was appointed governor of Arunachal Pradesh.

In 2016, Mr Rajkhowa was asked to step down from the governorship by then home minister Rajnath Singh and, when he refused, had to be dismissed by then President Pranab Mukherjee after the Supreme Court criticised in trenchant terms the governor's action in deciding to move the Arunachal Pradesh assembly session from January 14, 2016, to December 16, 2015, to conduct the floor test of the Nabam Tuki government, prior to its sacking.

A government headed by Kalikho Pul was installed instead, with BJP support.

The Congress went to court.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court directed restoring the status quo ante as it existed on December 15, 2015, bringing back the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh.

The court said the governor 'cannot interfere in the activities of the assembly'.

It also quashed the President's Rule imposed in the state and all the decisions taken by Mr Rajkhowa that led to the imposition and formation of a new government led by a breakaway faction of the Congress (under Kalikho Pul).

Kalikho Pul committed suicide and his suicide note --a dying declaration is considered of evidentiary value -- named the sons of several high-ranking persons who approached him with 'help' in restoring him to power for a consideration.

The BJP claimed it had nothing to do with the Rajkhowa operation. That's not what Mr Rajkhowa said.

It didn't end with that. Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi was replaced when the Congress government in power there at the time and the LG went head to head.

Ms Bedi made a Whatsapp group to monitor punctuality of officials.

Chief Minister V Narayanasamy said government officials could not become part of groups on social media and asked them not to take orders from the LG without informing him first.

He also asked officials not to meet the LG without the permission of the Cabinet.

Ms Bedi ignored all this and administered the oath of office to three nominated BJP legislators -- a job better left to the speaker.

Finally, she was replaced just before the assembly elections.

Tension between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar since he was appointed in 2019 is hardly a secret.

Initially, Mr Dhankhar used every opportunity he got to roil the waters for the Trinamool Congress government.

And to be fair, the Trinamool Congress too lost no opportunity to irritate the governor -- which political party, for instance, has protested at Raj Bhavan with processions of sheep and goats?

But when the Trinamool Congress returned to power after the assembly elections, Mr Dhankhar put his faith in discretion rather than valour and opted to himself administer the oath of office to Ms Banerjee following her Bhabanipur election, rather than leaving it to the speaker, chatting with her amicably for half an hour after that.

Notwithstanding the earlier stormy relationship, Mr Dhankhar appears to have made his peace with the government.

But not so, Satyapal Malik. His tenure in Jammu and Kashmir was controversial enough (in 2019, soon after he was appointed J&K governor, he said to a gathering at Kargil: 'The biggest disease in Kashmir is corruption ... These youths with guns, they are killing PSOs and SPOs for no reason, why are you killing them? Kill those who have looted your country and all the wealth from Kashmir, have you killed anyone out of them? Nothing will be achieved by this.')

This was only one of the gems. He was moved to Goa, which had a BJP government.

'There was corruption in the Goa government in handling everything. Because of that I was sent away from there,' he told TV channels.

He shifted to Meghalaya when Chief Minister Pramod Sawant begged the Centre to take the governor off his hands.

From Meghalaya, he found his way to the farmers' agitation site and, on the taxpayer's money, while still governor, told farmers how some BJP leaders had made money in Kashmir.

Former BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who was in charge of J&K at the time, has sought an enquiry into the governor's conduct in the state.

Already under fire for undermining Constitutional institutions, the BJP is understandably wary of acting precipitately.

But India deserves better than the humiliation heaped by some governors and their excesses (remember N D Tiwari?).

The Congress used Raj Bhavans to topple legally elected governments.

The BJP is letting governors get away with all manner of impropriety.

The casualty, rather like Draupadi's disrobing, is the Constitution.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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Aditi Phadnis
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