With the rise in instances of tension, and even stand-offs, between State governments and Governors, there is once again a debate on the role of the Raj Bhavan. In a discussion moderated by Sonam Saigal, Margaret Alva and M.R. Madhavan discuss the role and conduct of Governors, the relation of Governors with the Centre and State government, and whether Chief Ministers should have a say in the appointment of Governors in their respective States. Edited excerpts:
What are the roles and responsibilities of a Governor? What is the significance of the post?
Margaret Alva: The post of Governor is actually inherited from the past. The Mughals had Governors in order to be able to reach out to vast territories of the empire. The British also had Governors to be able to govern India. There are those who believe that the post is redundant, and there are others who feel that the Governor does play an important role. To me, the Governor is essentially a link between the Centre and the States. The Governor has various functions, such as addressing the joint session of the Assembly and the Budget session, and signing Bills that have been passed by the Assembly. The Governor has administrative and political functions to perform.
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M.R. Madhavan: We are a federal country, which has a clear design that there will be constituent States who elect their own governments, and a Union of States. So, there is a need to ensure unity and some level of uniformity across the Union. This creates its own tension. One of the designs of the Constitution, to supposedly manage this tension, is the post of Governor as a link between the Centre and the States. One can argue that the post of Governor has added to the tension at various times instead of resolving it.
As per Article 155 of the Constitution, the Governor is appointed by the President. But the Sarkaria Commission, set up in 1983 to examine the Centre-State relationship on various points, felt that the Chief Minister should be consulted before appointing the Governor, for proper working of the parliamentary system. Why do you think this recommendation was made?
MA: The appointment of the Governor today is in the hands of the ruling party in New Delhi. Many Governors, I’m sorry to say, function as if the Raj Bhavans are party offices of the ruling party. They always take decisions as directed by the [Union] Home Ministry and the Central government. The Governor is supposed to be an independent, non-partisan person. He/she is supposed to keep the interests of the State in mind and also ensure that the link between the State and the Centre is maintained in a smooth way. We have had Governors behaving like bulls in a china shop, turning everything upside down, with little regard for the elected body, the Assembly or the State, changing governments at their will. The relationship between the Governor and the Chief Minister is what determines smooth functioning. But this has not been happening in many, many cases.
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The Sarkaria Commission, therefore, probably thought that if the appointment was made in consultation with the Chief Minister, there would be smooth functioning and better relationships. But the Governor has to make independent decisions, whether it’s the question of deciding a government, the numbers, or the vote of confidence. The Governor has to maybe at times go against the will of the Chief Minister. Therefore, to say that the Chief Minister must approve the appointment of Governors is not correct. I do feel [there should be] general consultation. The opinion of the Chief Minister would go a long way in helping make the functioning of the Governor in a State more effective and maybe more conducive to the interests of the State.
MRM: One must see how the relationship between the Centre, the State and the office of the Governor evolved. Up to 1967, when the Congress was at the Centre and in most States, it went smoothly. Then things went bad in 1967. Between 1967 and 1971, there were three high-level bodies which looked at this issue. The report of the First Administrative Reforms Commission was submitted in 1969. The Tamil Nadu government set up the Rajamannar Committee. And the President Secretariat set up a committee. All three said that the Chief Minister should be consulted before the Governor is appointed.
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The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution said, “It would be appropriate to suggest a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Minister of the State concerned to select a Governor.” What do you think?
MRM: It also said the committee may include the Vice-President. So, rather than leaving it purely to the executive, it said the Central legislature has a role through the Speaker, and the State has a role through the Chief Minister, so that you will find somebody who is acceptable to everyone. I agree with Ms. Alva: you can’t leave it to the Chief Minister. But it is useful to consult the Chief Minister.
MA: I think the total composition of the committee is of the ruling party at the Centre. I feel it should be the Vice-President, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition, and maybe the Chief Minister of the State. I feel that getting the Chief Minister involved in the process of selection is not right. The Governor cannot be made to feel that the Chief Minister was one of those responsible for his selection; the Governor has to be above the Chief Minister, be independent, be able to function in a non-partisan manner, and not be beholden to the ruling party or to the Chief Minister.
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May I add, we have no criteria, no minimum qualifications laid out for a Governor. These are often retirement perks or rewards for unstinting loyalty to a particular party. Governors cannot be called before a court of law. These are things which have to be kept in mind. When you talk about the appointment of Governors, it cannot be according to the whims and fancies of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister cannot appoint somebody because he/she is happy with the performance of someone who may have been a Minister or a political leader of the party and has to be accommodated. These are the considerations which come in the appointment of Governors — not qualifications or the capacity to be able to administer the State.
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Do you think that the Chief Minister’s powers get affected vis-à-vis the Governor if the Chief Minister happens to belong to a party opposed to the ruling party at the Centre?
MA: The Governor speaks about the Chief Minister’s government. Therefore, there has to be cooperation and coordination between the State government and the Governor, irrespective of whether their political loyalties differ. I’ve been the Governor of four States, where you have to decide the majority of the government. In many States, it is decided on the floor of the Raj Bhavan. This is wrong. The majority, minority, vote of confidence has to be decided on the floor of the House. It is the elected representatives who have to decide and present the majority to the Governor.
The running of a normal system in the State of majority rule requires that the Governor not be beholden to the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister’s powers don’t become insignificant; he/she is the elected leader of the State. Legislation, running the State, the administration, ensuring law and order… all these are responsibilities of the State government. The Governor is supposed to be a friend, philosopher and guide, helping from the back, sorting out issues and resolving disputes, even between political parties. The Governor has to at times advise the Centre on what is happening and what needs to be done. That brings the Centre and the State together.
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MRM: The core assumption is that the Governor is expected to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, with a few exceptions. Like whom to invite to form the government, in times of no-confidence motions, in a situation where you need to impose Article 356 (in case of failure of constitutional machinery in the State), because no Chief Minister is going to advise that Article 356 be imposed. So, that will have to be under the discretion of the Governor. It comes back to how independent the Governor is, how the Governor acts. How do you ensure that the Governor maintains loyalty to the Constitution and not to the government at the Centre? In the end, there are no easy answers.
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Margaret Alva is a former Minister and belonged to the Congress party. She also served as Governor of Rajasthan, Goa, Uttarakhand and Gujarat. She was the Opposition’s candidate for the 2022 election for the post of Vice-President of India; M.R. Madhavan is the president and co-founder of PRS Legislative Research, an independent public policy research institution