As rows with governors escalate, state govts seek legislative redress

As rows with governors escalate, state govts seek legislative redress

TN govt pushing for private bill in Rajya Sabha to make constitutional amendments to how governors are appointed; bill moved by Kerala MP calls for greater clarity on role and powers of governors

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If alive today, Justice Ranjit Singh Sarkaria,  former Supreme Court judge, would rue the rising acrimony between the Centre and the states over governors and their actions. For long,  governors and  state governments have fought their battles through bureaucrats and the media. Now, state governments are increasingly looking for legislative redress for their grievances.

The DMK government is pushing for a private bill in the Rajya Sabha to make constitutional amendments to change the way governors are appointed. Another private bill moved by V Sivadasan, CPI(M) MP from Kerala, calls for greater clarity on the role and powers of governors, with appropriate amendments to the Constitution. The bill is going to be taken up for discussion on December 16.

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Earlier, the DMK submitted a memorandum to President Droupadi Murmu, asking for a recall of Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi.  It accused Raj Bhavan of functioning like a “state BJP unit.”

The Sarkaria Commission, which looked into Centre-state relations, envisioned apolitical governors. But a number of nominated governors, especially in states ruled by non-BJP governments, are taking their mandates well beyond the Raj Bhavan, and meddling with the affairs of the elected governments.

Ravi meets online gaming firms

Representatives of the E-Gaming Federation, a trade group for online gaming companies, met Ravi on December 8, even as he is sitting on a bill sent by the DMK government banning online gambling and regulating online games.

“There is much more to it,” said J Constantine Ravindran, secretary, media relations wing of the DMK, speaking to The Federal. “A representative from the company, Online Rummy, was also part of the delegation, which is shocking.”  While the e-gaming representatives claimed it to be a “private meeting,” the Raj Bhavan was tight-lipped on the issue.

“There is no transparency on what transpired in the meeting. There wasn’t even a press release from the Raj Bhavan. The Governor didn’t meet just any individual. He was meeting company representatives of many e-gaming companies, including Online Rummy,” Ravindran said. What makes the issue more controversial is the fact that over 17 suicides have been reported in Tamil Nadu that are allegedly linked to online gambling.

“There is no denying the fact that governors can meet anyone of their choice. But meeting representatives of online gaming companies amounts to not just a conflict of interest but also constitutional impropriety. It is a mockery that while BJP state president K Annamalai targets the DMK for not implementing the ban, the Governor appointed by his own party is meeting with representatives of such companies,” he said.

The Federal tried to reach Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi over the allegations. An email seeking the Raj Bhavan’s take on it didn’t receive a response till the time of publication. Tamil Nadu BJP representatives too didn’t respond to calls and text messages over the allegations. “There is a gag order on all leaders in the BJP; they can’t speak to the media without the consent of Annamalai,” said a BJP state leader on the condition of anonymity. The party’s media relations president Ranga Reddy didn’t respond to calls and text messages.

Political actions

Several other governors are also at the centre of controversies. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress has for long complained about bills being kept pending by the Governor. Kerala has its share of run-ins with Governor Arif Mohamed Khan, particularly over appointments to universities.

This puts the activities of governors under the radar. Act 155 of the Constitution gives the President of India the sole authority to appoint or transfer a governor. Kerala MP Sivadasan’s bill seeks to alter Articles 155 and 156 of the Constitution.

The Sarkaria Commission recommended that the governor should be “an eminent person hailing from out of the state.” But, in practice, today’s politician of the ruling party at the Centre might be the next governor of a state. The governor post has always been considered a ‘rubber stamp’ one, and there have been controversial issues earlier, too. But accusations of Raj Bhavans getting political have become rampant now.

Controversial statements

Ravi, for instance, is not just accused of meddling in state government affairs. His detractors say he’s also making controversial statements that create unrest. Recently, as quoted by media reports, he claimed that Christian missionaries like GU Pope had distorted the works of Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar in the past. On December 6, while unveiling Dr BR Ambedkar’s statue in the Raj Bhavan, he claimed that the “separate electorate for the depressed classes (Scheduled Castes) was a ploy by the British to make Ambedkar into a Jinnah.” Sociologists objected to his “twisting history.”

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The Communist Party of India (CPI) is launching a protest in front of the Raj Bhavan on December 29 condemning political acts unbecoming of a governor. “The Governor has only three options when a bill is passed by a democratically elected government,” CPI state secretary R Mutharasan  told The Federal. “He can send it back to the state government, forward it, or approve it. But sitting on bills submitted by an elected government and meeting representatives who could be affected by one such bill, is undemocratic,” he said.

Parallel governments

Mutharasan highlighted the difference between a governor who is appointed by the President and a state government voted to power by the people. “The governor has to act like a bridge between the state heads and the President. He can differ, but on constructive issues. He cannot run a parallel government,” he said.

Similar allegations were made against the Governor of Kerala, again a non-BJP ruling state. “The governors of non-BJP-ruled states are using powers vested in the Central government to destabilise the elected government, which is unhealthy,” said Mutharasan.

The issues with governors of many non-BJP-ruled states aren’t going to die down in the coming days and months. Experts point out that it is important for non-BJP parties to retain their sovereignty in the states ruled by them, given the brute majority the BJP has in Parliament.

The panels which looked at the role of the governor (those led by Sarkaria, Punchhi, Rajamannar and Justice V Chelliah, to name some), and their recommendations, may need a thorough re-look.

The panels were unanimous on three counts:

  1. The governor should be apolitical
  2. The governor should not hail from the state that he or she is posted in
  3. The person has to be eminent in some walk of life

Have today’s governors been appointed in line with these recommendations? While the Constitution  may offer some loopholes, some ethical thinking may be the need of the hour.

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