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UPA governors wanted to quit, but Congress refused

By Anita Katyal
June 21, 2014 17:54 IST
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Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil was the first who expressed his desire to put in his papers even before Modi government took charge, but he was told by Congress leaders not to do so as it would then put pressure on the others to do the same, reports Anita Katyal.

While the political storm over the removal of governors continues to rage on, it has come to light that a number of Congress-appointed governors had actually wanted to step down after the new government came to power but were stopped from doing so by the party leadership.

According to top Congress sources, Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil was the first who expressed his desire to put in his papers even before the National Democratic Alliance government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge, but he was told not to do so as it would then put pressure on the others to do the same.

Patil, it is learnt, was not comfortable about continuing since he had sought the resignation of NDA-appointed governors in 2004 when he was the Union home minister in the United Progressive Alliance government. Patil had then said that the governors were being removed because they were not ideologically aligned with the Congress-led UPA government.

A senior Congress leader disclosed that Patil felt that under these circumstances, he had no moral right to stay on.

Several Congress-appointed governors have been sent feelers by the BJP-led government that they should put in their papers.

Among those who have been asked to quit include M K Narayanan (West Bengal), Sheila Dikshit (Kerala), Margaret Alva (Rajasthan), Kamla Beniwal (Gujarat), BL Joshi (Uttar Pradesh), K Sankaranarayanan (Maharashtra) and Devendra Konwar (Tripura).

While Uttar Pradesh governor B L Joshi and Chhattisgarh governor Shekhar Dutt rendered their resignations, the others have decided to stay put.

Although the Congress had removed NDA-appointed governors when it came to power ten years ago, it took a considered view this time to challenge and embarrass the new government on this issue. Consequently, it advised its appointees not to resign.

The Congress believes it has strong case as it is armed with a 2010 Supreme Court order which had said the removal of the governors was untenable. Moreover, the matter landed in court after it was challenged by B P Singhal, known for his proximity to the BJP.

A five-judge constitution bench of the apex court had said, “The governor cannot be removed on the ground that he is out of sync with the policies and ideologies of the Union government or the party in power at the Centre. Nor can he be removed on the ground that the Union government has lost confidence in him”.

The court further said that if the reasons for removal were irrelevant, mala fide or whimsical, they could invite judicial intervention.

The Congress is well aware that the NDA government’s hands are tied in the light of this court order. The Centre cannot officially ask the governors to resign as it can lead to a long-drawn legal battle. It has, therefore, asked Union home secretary Anil Goswami to call up the governors and suggest to them that they step down.

The NDA government is clearly in a bind on this issue. It wants the Congress-appointed governors to go so that it can accommodate its own party nominees. But it cannot ask them to do so in writing.

Realising that the ruling alliance is on a weak wicket, one governor is stated to have rejected the suggestion and has instead put the ball in the Centre’s court, stating that the government should write to her if it wants her resignation before the expiry of her five-year-term, sources said.

Enjoying the Centre’s discomfiture, senior Congress leader and leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad went as far as to describe the ruling alliance’s move as “dictatorial and political vendetta” and warned of serious repercussions. The NDA government, he said, does not have the brief to dismiss governors in an arbitrary and capricious manner with the change of power.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram maintained the Centre should leave it to the governors to decide whether to continue in their posts or resign. "There is a case of intervention only where there is proven misconduct," he added.

The NDA government has, therefore, been at pains to state that they have not asked any governor to resign but it also made it clear that it expects them to go on their own.

“We have not sought resignation of state governors”, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar clarified, adding that the government will follow the Constitution on change of state governors, but governors should ‘follow their conscience.’

While this tug-a-war between the Congress and the NDA government is set to continue, there are several governors who are not on the ruling alliance’s radar for various reasons. For instance, Sikkim governor Shriniwas Dadasaheb Patil from the Nationalist Congress Party is unlikely to be touched after party chief Sharad Pawar put in a word for him with the BJP leadership.

Similarly, Meghalaya governor K K Paul is unlikely to be asked to go. His wife Omita Paul is secretary to President Pranab Mukherjee and the BJP would obviously like to keep the President on its right side.

Image: Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil

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