Tradition and formality: On politics and constitutional reforms

Leaders’ wrangling should not lead to politicising of constitutional norms

March 10, 2022 12:40 am | Updated 11:45 am IST

Two contrasting issues concerning the legislature in two States appear to sum up the potential for political controversy when elected governments and Governors do not see eye to eye. In the West Bengal Assembly, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and legislators of her party had to virtually plead with Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to start reading his customary address amidst a prolonged uproar by the Opposition BJP MLAs. Mr. Dhankhar appeared ready to give in to the protesters, but was ultimately persuaded into reading the first and last lines. In Telangana, on the other hand, the K. Chandrasekhar Rao government seems to have decided not to have Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan address the legislature before it presented this year’s Budget. Instead, it is treating the current meeting of the legislature as a continuation of the last session. That the session, which last met some months ago, was not prorogued, has given scope for the government to contend that it is just a further meeting, and it is not necessary for the Governor to open it with an address. The ceremonial address is usually delivered in the first session of every year. Dr. Soundararajan has issued a rare statement to argue that the government’s position was technical, and it would not be proper to commence the Budget session without her address. The episode appears to arise from points of conflict between the government secretariat and Raj Bhavan, as the ruling TRS seems aggrieved that the Governor deviated from the text of her address last year and on some other issues too.

The Governor’s address is a constitutional formality, albeit a significant one, as it is essentially a statement of policy of the regime of the day. That the formal occasion is mired in political wrangling is a sign of institutional decay and unwarranted politicisation of constitutional norms. That Ms. Banerjee saw the incidents in the Assembly, which almost resulted in the abandonment of the Governor’s address, as “an attempt to create a constitutional crisis” shows that leaders still attach constitutional significance to the tradition. It will be desirable if the same recognition is seen in Telangana too. After all, if not now, the next session will have to open with the Governor’s address. It is true that there are sound arguments that question the need and the relevance of the office of Governor, or support the view that some incumbents are politically partisan. There may even be a case for doing away with the formality, or even arguing that the policy statement is better read out by the elected Chief Minister. However, as long as the current system is in vogue, there is a case for abiding by the norms. Politics notwithstanding, it is only in such formality that civility in public discourse is expressed.

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