CONSTANT TIFFS HURTING INDIA’S CONSTITUTIONAL FEDERALISM
Should the governors and elected chief ministers confront each other even at the time of facing a pandemic? Do we need activist governors or are they mere ornamental and figureheads? Do we need the governors at all or should the post be abolished? Once again there is a focus on the governors and chief ministers with disturbing confrontations between the two constitutional offices.
It reached a peak last week with a number of chief ministers complaining to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his fourth virtual meeting on the Covid -19 strategy. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sought the intervention of the Prime Minister alleging that governors were interfering in state government’s work and playing politics to hamper the fight against the corona crisis.
Puducherry chief minister V. Narayanaswamy supported her complaining, “We are facing this in Puducherry where Lt Governor Kiran Bedi is trying to run a parallel government despite a judicial snub. We are going to move a contempt notice against her.” Narayanaswami and Kiran Bedi have been at loggerheads since the latter assumed office in 2016 with chief minister even calling her “the centre has appointed a demon.”
Maharashtra Governor B.S. Koshyari did not cover himself with glory when he decided to swear- in BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis in October last in a hurried private oath taking ceremony at 7.30 in the morning.
Maharashtra also saw a tantalising scene of how the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had been kept on tenterhooks about his election to the legislature. Ultimately with the intervention of Prime Minister Modi to whom Uddhav had appealed to intervene, the governor wrote a letter to the Election Commission to hold elections to the council as a special case.
Delhi is no better. The relationship between the Delhi chief minister Kejriwal and the Lt Governor Anil Baijal and his predecessor Najeeb Jung had been quite strained. Kejriwal got some reprieve after the Supreme Court ruled in July 2018 that the Lieutenant Governor does not have independent decision-making powers and the real power must lie with the elected government.
Baijal has recently written a strongly worded letter to Kejriwal on the exodus of tens of thousands of migrant workers from the national capital that forced the Centre to ask bordering states to seal their borders and look after the migrants.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has been having differences with the state government on many issues including the government’s stand on Citizen Amendment Act. In his address to the Assembly, though he read out the speech he also spoke expressing his own views on the CAA, which were not in the text.
In addition, the on-going tug of war between Mamata Banerjee and the governor Jagdeep Dhankar has turned very ugly in the midst of fighting the coronavirus. With both asserting their constitutional positions and Banerjee alleging that Governor is overstepping his jurisdiction, West Bengal is witnessing a no holds barred fight.
The two have had tense relations since the day Dhankar took over as governor last July.There have been many incidents of a verbal clash over several issues, including law and order situation in the state to the running of universities.
Even though the Prime Minister has praised Mamata Banerjee for her work against the coronavirus Dhankar had continued his criticism alleging that Banerjee had failed to enforce the lock down. The latest is a warning from Mamata Banerjee accusing Dhankar of trying to “usurp powers” amid the coronavirus crisis. In his letters, Dhankhar had urged Banerjee to refrain from indulging in politics during the pandemic.
This brings us to the question what is the role of the Governor? The Constitution empowers him or her to influence the decisions of an elected Government by giving the right “to be consulted, to warn and encourage”. Pertinently, the Sarkaria Commission had recommended that the governor should be appointed in consultation with the state’s chief minister and secondly the five-year term of the governor should not be disturbed except in rare circumstances.
Unfortunately the Governor’s role has been distorted as successive Central governments from the time of Indira Gandhi had often used and abused the office of the governors.
Indira Gandhi changed the rules of the game by making loyalty to her the sole merit. Now the appointment of the governors has become more political.
What is needed today is harmony between the two constitutional posts and not figuring who is right and who is wrong. Both are expected to function with dignity and decorum. Both are expected to confine themselves to the role envisaged by the framers of the Constitution. Activist governors and egoistic chief ministers are the last thing India needs.
As Gopal Krishna Gandhi, himself a former Governor says in an article “a chief minister actuates a popular mandate, the governor exercises that all pervasive moral influence, both together providing the people in their jurisdiction the assurance they are in secure and mutually composed, not conflicted hands.”