The National Democratic Alliance government’s attempt to nudge some Governors appointed by the previous regime to quit, amidst reports that not all of them are willing to go on their own, has revived the debate on the politicisation of the office of Governor. In 2004, the United Progressive Alliance government removed some Governors appointed by the regime that preceded it, and the present dispensation wants to follow that precedent. The difference between 2004 and the present is quite marked. Until 2010, the predominant notion was that since a Governor holds office at the pleasure of the President, subject to a five-year term, she could be removed at any time and for no reason at the Centre’s instance. However, in B.P. Singhal vs. Union of India (2010), the Supreme Court ruled that a Governor’s removal is justiciable and there should be good, valid and compelling reasons for such a removal. The power should not be exercised arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably. It is quite ironic that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was aggrieved by the removal of its appointees as soon as the UPA took charge in 2004, is now in a hurry to ease out at least some of the UPA appointees.
The view that a new regime can remove a Governor on the ground that she is out of sync with the policies and ideology of the party in power at the Centre or that the ruling party has lost confidence in her, has been rejected by the Supreme Court. For too long, the office has been used to rehabilitate politicians defeated in elections or as a reward for retired bureaucrats and intelligence officials. It is surprising that in over six decades since the Constitution was adopted very few eminent persons in fields other than politics and civil or military service have been appointed Governors. Several Governors have acted as partisans of the ruling party at the Centre and hindered the smooth functioning of State governments. The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations suggested that a Governor should be someone eminent in some walk of life, one “not too intimately connected with the local politics of the State,” and should not be one “who has taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past.” It suggested that a politician from the ruling party at the Centre should not be appointed Governor of a State run by another party. If only these norms are followed in practice, the need to ease out “inconvenient” Governors will not arise. The real test of the new government’s democratic credentials would be whether it resists the temptation to replace the Congress politicians and favourites with its own party men put out to pasture, and appoints suitable eminent personalities in line with the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations.