Time to debate Governors’ powers

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:34 pm IST

Published - February 04, 2016 12:26 am IST

By imposing President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh even before a mandatory floor test could establish conclusively that the Congress government of Nabam Tuki had lost its majority, the Central government acted prematurely. Indeed, the Supreme Court in seeking reasons for the decision, and observing that “the matter is too serious”, underscored what President Pranab Mukherjee had said in his new year’s message to Governors: they must play, he said, their assigned role while respecting the distinct authority and responsibility vested in the executive, the judiciary and the legislature, and help “create a harmonious relationship between the Centre and the States”. When the Centre sought his assent for President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. Mukherjee cautioned against a hasty decision — indeed, one that runs counter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of cooperative federalism. But the government, projecting it as a ‘textbook case’ for the use of Article 356, had its way. On Monday, the Supreme Court accepted that a Governor is not answerable to the courts for the exercise of the powers of his office. But simultaneously it ordered the Centre to release all documents — including personal letters of the Chief Minister and of his ministerial colleagues — to enable Mr. Tuki to prepare a defence against the contents of Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s report that accuses him of instigating fellow Nyishis and funding public protests to seek the latter’s exit. The Governor also claimed that he had been abused, threatened and nearly assaulted by Mr. Tuki’s Ministers, who joined protestors and even sacrificed a mithun outside the Raj Bhavan.

However, this is not the first case of a clash between a Governor and the Chief Minister of a State in the past year. The Governors of Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam — Tathagata Roy, Ram Naik, Keshari Nath Tripathi and P.B. Acharya, respectively — have been on a collision course with the Chief Ministers of the States. Mr. Naik clashed with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s choice of Lokayukta, and sat over the State’s nominations for five members to the Legislative Council. In Assam, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi accused Mr. Acharya of “interfering” in the political affairs of the State. Mr. Acharya also hit the headlines for his controversial “Hindustan is for Hindus” comment. Mr. Roy attracted adverse attention when he said publicly: “Whatever gave you the notion that I am secular? I am Hindu.” The imposition of President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh is, in a sense, in keeping with the record of governments of all hues to use pliant Governors to dismiss opposition-run State governments. However, at present there is another concern: many Governors are being seen as active agents working to implement the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva agenda. Later this month, when the President hosts the annual Governors’ conference, it would be in order to have a deeper discussion on the constitutional proprieties that should guide a Governor’s word and deed.

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