The Politics of Governors

Asia News Agency

The Politics of Governors

There have been recent controversies over Governors not following the advise of the state cabinet and withholding consent to Bills passed by the legislative assemblies. This is happening in Tamil Nadu. In  Kerala, the Governor is in conflict with the sate government over the management of Universities.    There are other examples. This is not a new trend. It has been there since independence. The root cause is the appointment of Governors by almost all Union governments with political motives and with a view to pressurise states that are of a different political denomination or party. 

There is a view that the post of the governor remains a constitutional anomaly. The governor is supposed to head the executive of the state in the same manner as the President is the head of the executive at the Centre. The President is an elected executive, chosen through the two Houses of Parliament and the state legislatures. The governor, however, is appointed by the President. But the functions of the governor in the state are the same as that of the President.


Governor is an agent of the Centre

Though the President appoints the governor and the governor holds his/her office at the pleasure of the President, Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr (political analyst) writes “the fact is the governor is nominated by the ruling party at the Centre. And the governor is beholden to the Prime Minister and the ruling party. In political terms, the governor is an agent of the Centre and of the Prime Minister in the state.….

All governments to blame: The Congress set a precedent of using the governor in confronting the state governments run by other political parties. The BJP has been following in the footsteps of the Congress.

The governors of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Punjab and the lieutenant-governor of the National Capital Territory of Delhi “have been doing their best to frustrate the state governments under the DMK, Left Democratic Front (LDF), the All-India Trinamul Congress (AITMC) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)…..” They has been embarrassing the elected state governments in many ways including withholding consent to Bills.

The parties in power at the Centre, writes Rao Jr.  “tend to think and act with an imperial mindset. It was so with the Congress governments, it was so with the non-Congress governments of the Janata Party, the National Front, the United Democratic Front and the BJP. The headiness of ruling a vast country like India is perhaps understandable, but not forgivable. India cannot be governed from Delhi, and this was the theme song of the BJP when it was confined to state governments.” The shoe is now on the other foot.  “Mr Modi is only repeating all the political sins that he used to accuse the Congress of in violating the spirit of federalism.”


Misusing the governor’s office by the Union governments in power

The Supreme Court has expressed serious concerns about the delays by some of the governors in assenting to the Bills passed by the state legislatures. This violates the constitutional provisions and the doctrine of constitutional morality.

The constitution of India has envisaged the role of the governor as custodian of constitutionalism in the respective states; however, according to Nayakara Veeresha (independent researcher and writer on governance and development) “owing to the nature of appointment using nominee/selection by the union government, most of the time, the governors abide by the obligation to the ruling dispensation rather than to the constitutionalism. This has deepened the crisis between the union and state relations by corroding the principle of cooperative federalism……

“The inordinate delay of governor/s in granting assent to the Bills has become the unwritten rule in some of these states, thereby diminishing the credibility of the institution of the governor. Misusing the governor’s office by the Union government in power is not entirely new. It has been in practice since 1950. This is true for the largest political alliances of NDA and UPA, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress, respectively.”


Governor’s discretionary powers

The Governor nevertheless, remains a powerful constitutional office by virtue of his discretionary powers.

At its root is Article 163(2), writes KK Paul (former Governor) according to which, ‘If any question arises whether any matter is or is not a matter as respects which the Governor is by or under this Constitution required to act in his discretion, the decision of the Governor, in his discretion, shall be final and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in his discretion.’

This, states Paul  “would tend to make the office of the Governor very powerful, even more than that of the President, who is, as per Article 74(1), bound by the advice of the Cabinet. No such parallel provision exists for the Governor……”

The Governor “has the discretionary power within the contours of the Constitution to dismiss the state government or suspend or dissolve the state Assembly…..Another important area where the Governor enjoys the power of the unwritten word is the appointment of the Chief Minister. Article 164 only states that the Chief Minister is to be appointed by the Governor and other ministers will be appointed by him on the advice of the CM. The role of the Governor assumes importance in case any political party fails to secure absolute majority……” Though the Constitution is silent on the procedure to be followed in such cases, “over time, healthy conventions and precedents have evolved. But in some cases, Governors, largely due to political considerations, have failed to observe these norms and conventions. Such actions often give rise to horse-trading and defections…..”


Governor have a few discretionary powers which he can exercise without the advice of the state Cabinet

Constitutionally, under Article 163(2), according to Paul “a Governor does have a few discretionary powers which he can exercise without the advice of the state Cabinet. Some of these pertain to Article 371A regarding special provisions for Nagaland and other northeastern states. Similar powers exist in respect of the Schedule VI areas. In case a decision has to be taken under a particular Act and not under the Constitution, the Governor can do so independently, without requiring advice from the Cabinet.

“The same principle would apply to his role as chancellor of various universities in the state. A university, under its statute, is a corporate body and the Governor as a chancellor would have no immunity under Article 361(1) of the Constitution. This also leads to the debate whether the Governor should be a chancellor at all.

“The Governor also enjoys a unique position as he is neither answerable to the legislature nor Parliament. The President of India can be impeached, but there is no such provision in respect of a Governor. He serves only at the pleasure of the President, which actually means the Central Government.”

All Polity Articles