Time to retrieve the gubernatorial glory of India

Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Bihar – all these states witnessed how the Governors applied different yardsticks at the behest of Centre to install governments of the choice of ruling party. It is a futile exercise to debate too much over the role of the Governor in the context of Karnataka.

It’s not the first time that controversy has arisen over the decision of the Governor but there are instances galore. Office of the Governor has been misused umpteen times by the Congress, the BJP and even the Third Front Janata parties depending upon their political convenience. It’s time to act, plug the loopholes of the system and not just generate high decibel sound with no light.

The post of Governor is very strategic in a federal system like India as it acts as the eyes and ears of the Centre in states and strengthens national integration in a plural and diverse federation. Article 356 has been imposed more than 120 times in the country to dislodge state governments that have been from the opposition. The Governors have indulged in politics in the states and have often entrenched themselves as rival parallel power centers to the Chief Ministers. But fortunately, since the Supreme Court judgment in the SR Bommai case, the dislodging of state governments on flimsy grounds has become tough. Floor test has become mandatory to test rival claims.

However, when it comes to exercise of appointment of Chief Minister at the time when there is no clear-cut majority to any party, the role of Governor has not covered itself in glory on multiple occasions. So it’s imperative we redeem this post and for this, certain steps need to be taken. Sarkaria Commission and Punchi Commission have examined the role of Governors in the context of Centre-State relations and come up with recommendations quite a few chunks of which are yet to be accepted by the center.

1) Circumscribe the Discretionary powers of the Governor under Article 163 with well-defined norms. Insert a Provision in the constitution as to who needs to be given the first shot at government formation when there is fractured verdict – the largest party, the largest pre-poll alliance or the largest post-poll alliance. Should the Governor be guided by constitutional morality or the stability of the government while taking a decision?

There have been precedents under which the leader of the majority party has been invited to form the Government but then, there are occasions when political expediency outweighs precedents and conventions of democracy. Precedents can’t be expected to continue for eternity until and unless, they are codified as laws.

2) Outlaw post-poll alliances for they are opportunistic and unethical. They tend to subvert popular mandate and engender horse trading.

3) Make changes in the Anti Defection act as per the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission namely:

a) Defectors must resign from their seats and contest fresh elections.

b) Defectors should be barred from holding any public office for the remaining tenure of the House or till next elections whichever is earlier.

c) Vote cast by a defector to topple a govt should be invalid.

d) The power to decide on questions of defection and disqualification of membership should be taken away from Speaker and entrusted to Central Election Commission.

4) The health of any institution depends on the quality of individuals who run it. It’s no secret that Governorship has become the retiring ground for party loyalists who are well past their political prime. Governors act on the diktats of their party bosses rather than the Constitution. It’s high time the nation thinks about having nonpolitical persons drawn from Civil society/Bureaucracy/Judiciary/Sports & Culture/Social activism as Governors.

A non elected post should not be given to politicians whether it’s of Governor or Chairman/Member of public corporations and statutory bodies. It is important to check the growth of spoils system in Indian democracy in which public offices are given to loyal party workers even though they may not have the requisite merit to discharge their functions properly. Under this system as was prevalent in the USA in the 18th century, the victorious party took virtually everything leaving nothing for the losing parties. This is simply the antithesis of democracy. The post of Governor should not be converted into a post of the spoils system.

A high powered Committee, comprising PM, Leader of opposition in both houses, speaker and Chief Justice of Supreme Court besides distinguished members of civil society, needs to be constituted to prepare the national panel of eminent nonpolitical persons from which Governors have to be selected.

5) There should be a security of tenure for the Governor. The fate of gubernatorial posts should be tied to the rise and fall of governments at the Centre. After relinquishing the post, there should be a minimum cooling off period of 3 years before he becomes eligible for another public post.

This will inspire public confidence in the institution of Governor. It will also insulate the Governor from unnecessary controversy. It will also thwart any judicial moves to interfere into the executive domain. After all, judiciary only comes into picture when there is an abdication of legislative & executive responsibility resulting into constitutional crisis & discomfort to ordinary citizens.

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