In pressing for the removal of UPA-appointed Governors, the BJP must be reminded that it is not only going against its own stand which its party leaders took a decade ago, but is also overruling the decision/judgment of the Supreme Court in 2010 on the issue of the removal of the Governor of a State

The subject of the removal of Governors of different States, an issue which made headlines some time ago, may have been put on the back burner, but it does not seem to have gone into cold storage.

The controversy over the removal of Governors has receded into the background only because the issue which has hogged the limelight recently is the government’s rejection of the name of Mr. Gopal Subramanium, recommended by the Supreme Court collegium for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court, on account of adverse reports by the Intelligence Bureau.

Precedent

The government is now adopting a policy of wait and watch to see if the Governors whom it wants removed resign on their own in due course of time. The Governors of five States, M.K. Narayanan (West Bengal), B.L. Joshi (Uttar Pradesh), Shekhar Dutt (Chhattisgarh), Ashwani Kumar (Nagaland) and B.V. Wanchoo (Goa) have already resigned, while the terms of two others, H.R. Bhardwaj (Karnataka) and Devanand Konwar (Tripura), ended recently; pressure is being built up by the government to force the others to resign.

The Governor is appointed by the President of India on the advice of the Council of Ministers for the period of five years. Unlike the President of India, there is no procedure for the impeachment of a Governor, but he/she could be removed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister on grounds of gross delinquency, namely corruption, bribery and violation of the Constitution. But the practice has been different from what is laid down in the Constitution; Governors have been removed only due to a change of government without citing any substantial reason.

The government is trying to use the bureaucracy for this unconstitutional work/move while trying to keep a safe distance so that it can emerge clean in case of a hue and cry

One should not be surprised by the Narendra Modi government’s initiative to remove Governors. There is precedent. Even in the past, Governors appointed by previous governments have been removed by the new government on assuming office after elections. The new governments have expended energy on removing Governors and appointing their own men as new Governors.

The practice of dismissing Governors with the change of guard at the Centre began in 1977 when the Janata Party came to power after routing the Congress and took a decision to replace Governors appointed by the previous regime. Incidentally, in 1977, the decision/recommendation of the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, and his Cabinet to dismiss Governors was sent back by then acting President B.D. Jatti without signing it. Though the government managed to remove the Governors, as the acting President Jatti was constitutionally bound to sign the order when it was again sent back to him, it came as an embarrassment for the Janata Party government which had just assumed office.

No formal communication

The practice of replacing the Governor by the newly elected Central government did not stop and different governments kept indulging in the practice.

But what comes as a surprise is the manner in which the initiative for removal of these Governors was undertaken. While none of them has got any formal communication from the government to step down, it is the Home Secretary Anil Goswami, who is asking them to resign, on behalf of the government. To the surprise of all, this is being done over the phone. The government is trying to use the bureaucracy for this unconstitutional work/move while trying to keep a safe distance so that the government can emerge clean in case of a hue and cry.

More than the surprising manner in which this has been initiated, what is even more perplexing is the double standards of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the issue. After coming to power in 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government initiated the process of removal of four Governors, Vishu Kant Shastri (Uttar Pradesh), Babu Parmanand (Haryana), Kidar Nath Sahani (Goa) and Kailashpati Mishra (Gujarat), which BJP leaders Mr. Lal Krishna Advani and Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee opposed and forced a discussion in the House under Rule 193. The UPA’s move was described by Mr. Vajpayee as a “big blow to democracy” while Mr. Advani called it “dangerous.” Now, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is keen on the removal of Governors appointed by the previous UPA government. Is this not a blow to democracy? Is this not unethical? We know that there is a change in generation, from Mr. Advani to Mr. Rajnath Singh, but does such a generational change also mean a change in the party’s ideology? If this is the case, why is the removal of Governors being done using the backdoor approach rather than the government being actively involved in this effort?

Court ruling

The ruling party must be reminded that the party is not only going against its own stand which the party leaders took a decade ago, but is also overruling the decision/judgment of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, in May 2010 on the issue of the removal of the Governor of a State. The judgment emphasised that “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.” It is true that the same judgment also provided an exception that the government can initiate the process of removal of the Governor by first building a case file citing reasons for the removal of the Governor.

Does the new BJP government want to use that clause of exception to remove a Governor? If the government wants to exercise this exception clause, the least it would have to do is to write to the President spelling out the reasons for wanting his/her (Governor’s) removal. But it seems the government is trying to bypass all these steps, remove the Governor by an indirect method and initiate moves to come out clean in case there are issues over the move, as no letters have been exchanged or notices sent. But I am sure there is still potential for the government to face embarrassment as such a file/request for the removal of the Governor can be sent back by the President to the government in the first instance though, the President is bound to sign it if the file is re-sent to him — as it happened in 1977.

The BJP could have easily avoided this controversy, as the term of H.R. Bhardwaj (Karnataka), ended only recently while the term of Governor Kamla Beniwal (Gujarat) will end in a few months’ time.

In this case, without acting on anyone, the new government would not have had a problem on its hands unlike now. That would have left the government to work out the removal of the Governor of Kerala, Sheila Dikshit, the Governor of Rajasthan, Margaret Alva and the Governor of Maharashtra, K. Sankaranarayanan. The government could have avoided getting into this controversy either by initiating steps for the removal of only a couple of Governors or by initiating this early next year.

Though most previous governments have indulged in such practice, the new BJP government could have easily refrained from such a move and set an example of good governance. It has certainly missed a golden opportunity to present itself before the people as being a government with a difference.

(Sanjay Kumar is a professor and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.)

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