Debate over Governor’s role: Is BJP repeating the Congress mistakes?  

The cry over “murder of democracy” vis-a-vis abuse of Governor’s office has come full circle. Just as the ‘office of the Governor’ has come under focus yet again following high drama in Karnataka, many say the Governor Vajubhai Vala has only toed the convention of inviting the single largest party.

But some also say the high profile controversy around his move is only a throwback to old episodes when Raj Bhavans had courted controversies under Congress.

“It is wrong to presume that a Governor will have to act by consulting the central government or union Home Ministry. The constitution is clear, it requires Governor to apply his own mind. In Karnataka case too, the Governor should have or must have reacted according to the situation created by the verdict. He has called the single largest party,” former Nagaland Minister Thomas Ngullie told UNI.

There were series of instances in the past under Congress regime when the office of Governors across the country – from Kerala to Odisha and to northeast – were abused for dismissing non-Congress governments, imposing President’s rule and also for not inviting non-Congress parties to form government.

It is only paradoxical turn of twists today that the Congress party is at the receiving end of the alleged ‘dictatorial’ culture of RSS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It is during the height of such debates in 1980s that eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee once wrote: “Governor is not the employee of the Government of India. He is not amenable to the directions of the centre and he is an independent constitutional office”.

By and large the debate has been that like most Governors, the incumbent at Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru (Mr Vala) also toed the ‘political’ line of BJP – the party in power in the centre.

 

A Bengaluru-based educationist Manjunath Vijay Kumar has his argument: “Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala has been a BJP leader, who vacated his seat in Rajkot in Gujarat in 2002 when Narendra Modi needed to win an election after the party made him state chief minister. So, we can draw our conclusion”.

In this context, a closer look at past instances would be important. In 1973, Orissa High Court held the Governor’s role ‘wrong’ when towering non-Congress leader Biju Patnaik of Pragati Party was declined opportunity to form government after Congress ministry headed by Nandini Satpathi had resigned.

In more recent years, regionalist stalwart in northeast Vamuzo was declined opportunities to form government in Nagaland in 1987 when Hokishe Ministry of Congress party was reduced to minority.

 

In 1992 again Vamuzo was dismissed by the Rao regime and President’s Rule was imposed after he had recommended dissolution of state assembly. “I am not surprised, after all, the Congress has always considered itself as imperial power and treated the northeastern tribal people as residents of Congress colonies,” the late Vamuzo had said.

There were other instances too. Way back in 1959 ,the CPI-M regime was dismissed arbitrarily by the Nehru government.

In Manipur and in Meghalaya – several Governors only earned public and media criticism for following the Congress line.

In 2005, during Manmohan Singh’s regime, Goa Chief Minister Manohor Parrikar –was dismissed by Governor SC Jamir. In Jharkhand, the BJP was declined to form government initially and the then state Governor Syed Sibte Razi’s role had come under severe criticism.

Governors had run into controversies in states like Uttar Pradesh and Tripura and in some instances the likes of Romesh Bhandari had been accused of him being ‘stooge’ of the Congress party.

In 1992-93, four BJP governments – in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh were dismissed after the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December.

The development in Karnataka would not have been so controversial had BJP allowed single largest party Congress to come to power in Goa or in Meghalaya.

It is alleged that the BJP has grabbed powers during the past two years in states like Manipur, Goa and Meghalaya by denying government to the single largest party – Congress. “They are changing the rules and conventions for them now,” says political analyst Shanta Patel in Bengaluru.

“If the same yardstick applies, the Governor should invite a Congress-JDS alliance,” said JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy.

But observers like Shanta Patel says: “Each governor is an independent authority. The convention of one governor is not binding for another”.

In the end perhaps it is relevant to discuss about the ‘works and duties’ of a Governor besides the responsibilities.

In his paper for a seminar for University of Mumbai, titled ‘Some Constitutional Problems’ Justice Subha Rao once wrote: “One Governor told me as early as 1954 that he read 200 novels during his tenure, indicating thereby he had no serious work to do. Another Governor said that he was a non-entity. A third Governor publicly declared that she was a super hostess”.

The complexity of the debate about the Governor’s office could not be summed up better.

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