Row over choice of Telangana Governor

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao greets Tamilisai Soundararajan after she took oath as the new Telangana Governor, at Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad, Sunday. Photo: PTI

When the appointment of Tamilisai Soundararajan as Governor of Telangana was announced last week, it was seen as a politically-loaded move by the BJP to put the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and his government under watch. Unlike her predecessor E S L Narasimhan who was widely perceived as being close to the Chief Minister, Soundararajan was expected to be tough and uncompromising.

The choice of an active politician for Gubernatorial post was expected to open a new front of confrontation between the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and BJP which has vowed to capture power in the state in the 2023 Assembly elections.

The friction appears to have surfaced much sooner than expected.

The first sign came through an article, written by the Chief Minister’s Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO) Jwala Narasimha Rao, making critical comments against the way the Governors are being appointed by the NDA government.

ALSO READ: Tamilisai Soundararajan sworn-in Telangana Governor

In an article titled “Gubernatorial gimmicks of modern times” and published in two local dailies, Rao, a close confidant of the Chief Minister, dubbed the latest round of appointments of Governors as a “process of political rehabilitation for the party in power at the Centre.”

While the CMO official did not specifically name Soundararajan in the article, it was quite obvious who he was targeting. The timing of its publication—a day after the new Governor took charge—is also curious.

Even two days after the publication of the column, there is no statement yet from the Chief Minister distancing himself from the views expressed by his CPRO.

Negation of Sarkaria Commission recommendations

Quoting from the Sarkaria Commission’s report of 1987, Rao said that none of its recommendations were followed in the appointment to the Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad.

“The Sarkaria Commission in its report in October 1987, suggested that the Governor should be a person of some eminence in some field and should be a detached figure with little record of participation in the local politics of the State. He or she should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally and particularly in the recent past of his or her appointment. It is desirable that a politician from the ruling party at the Centre should not be made the Governor of a State-run by another party. It should be ensured that there is effective consultation with the Chief Minister of a State while appointing a Governor in that State. None of these are apparently followed,” he said.

The column was published in “Andhra Jyothy”, a Telugu daily and “Hans India”, an English daily.

The article clearly suggested that KCR, as the Chief Minister is popularly known, was not consulted before appointing Soundararajan as the Governor.

ALSO READ: My father, a Congress veteran, will be happy today: Tamilisai Soundararajan

“Let the appointment of Governors not be a process of political rehabilitation for the party in power at the Centre as reflected in the recent appointments under the present dispensation. It’s high time we make necessary changes in the Constitution and do away with the old practices? The sooner, the better,” Rao, who has been the CPRO since 2014, said. He has authored a couple of books on the achievements of the TRS government.

“Governors today are being derogatively called as the agents of the Centre. The issue becomes more relevant with the appointment of nine new Governors in the recent past since July,” he says.

Pointing out that the institution of the Governor was misused to a great extent several times in the past, the official said that there was “no guarantee that the same is not repeated in future.”

“Many political debates took place to restructure the constitutional framework concerning the office and role of the Governor in a federal set-up. When the Chief Ministers belonged to the Opposition, the Governor was considered as the Centre’s agent. As a result, the Governor started playing a stubborn role, which gave birth to debatable issues concerning the constitutional powers of the Governor,” he said.

“The key issue concerning the office of the Governor today is one of rehabilitation. The problem of role differentiation is taking place largely on account of one-party dominance, which assumed such serious dimensions today as to become a case of crisis of confidence in the political system itself. Though the Supreme Court has expressly laid down that the Governorship is an independent constitutional office, which is not subject to the control of the Government of India, it is seldom observed in practice,” he argued.

BJP cries foul

Taking umbrage over the article, the state BJP unit has demanded that the Chief Minister publicly condemn it and sack the officer.

“It seems the Chief Minister’s Office is rattled by Dr Soundararajan’s appointment for reasons best known to them,” the BJP spokesperson Krishnasagar Rao said.

Pointing out that writing such a piece was unbecoming of a senior government officer, the BJP leader said that it amounted to casting aspersions on the new Governor as it “presumes that she will misuse the office”.

“BJP strongly condemns these baseless accusations and presumptive political conspiracy being attributed to a constitutional custodian appointed through due process,” Krishnasagar Rao said.

If KCR is not in sync with what his officer wrote, the CM should ideally distance himself from it as it sours the relationship between the CMO and Raj Bhavan just when the new Governor is settling into the job, the opposition leader argued.

Meanwhile, the Governor received support from unexpected quarters. A senior Congress leader V Hanumantha Rao said that she was being targeted because she hails from the Backward Class community.

“The Chief Minister must clarify whether he endorses the views of his CPRO,” Rao, an influential OBC leader, said.