A former judge of the Supreme Court of India and a former Indian Army commander are among the new Governors of States appointed by the Centre on Sunday. The Governors of several States and the Lieutenant-Governor of a Union Territory were also shuffled. In recent years, Governors have sought to play a political role in States such as Jharkhand, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, creating a train of controversies. For good reasons, the roles of the military and the judiciary too are topics of interest, particularly with regard to their relationship with the political executive. The executive government’s eagerness to control judicial appointments, besides the debate on the collegium system of judges appointing judges, is evident. It has selectively delayed and accelerated appointments recommended by the collegium, effectively exercising powers that it does not have in appointing judges. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also faced charges of using the armed forces to further its political narratives. Earlier too, retired police and intelligence officers went on to occupy Raj Bhavans, but it was the appointment of a retired Chief Justice of India (CJI) as a Governor in 2014 that created a new precedent. Another retired CJI was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, in 2020, raising eyebrows.
The institution of the Governor is a legacy of the British imperial governance structure. The legitimacy of a nominated Governor in a democracy was the topic of a heated debate in the Constituent Assembly, but it was carried on into the new republic nevertheless. The Governor was to act as a dynamic link between the Centre and the State, but the makers of the Constitution were clear that the posts must remain ornamental, except in very narrowly defined situations in which they were allowed discretion in decision-making. Over the decades, the overreach of Governors has become a serious question in Centre-State relations and democracy in general. The dominance of the BJP at the Centre since 2014 has added fresh tensions with the States. The BJP has a vision of national unity that causes anxiety among regional interest groups. The office of the Governor was to be embellished by the personalities of those who would occupy it. Opening it as a post-retirement possibility for those who are required to stay aloof from partisan politics in their current roles, lowers the dignity of the offices that they leave behind and what they go on to occupy.
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