Shelving Guv’s address in budget session more about KCR vs Modi conflict?

The TRS-led government has defended the move stating that it is neither unprecedented nor is there any anomaly in holding the assembly session without the governor’s address. But political commentators believe otherwise

Cold war? Telangana governor Tamilisai Soundararajan's growing assertiveness is also making KCR uneasy

In a major departure from tradition, the Telangana assembly’s budget session is scheduled to commence on March 7 without the customary governor’s address. The governor Tamilisai Soundararajan will not open the session with her speech to a joint session of the assembly and legislative council.

The first session of a newly-formed House after an election, and the first session of each year as a norm flags off with the governor’s speech. While the governor’s speech for the first session after the election lays out the priorities of the new government, the first session of each year enumerates the achievements of the government and lists the programmes for the coming year.

However, the Telangana government is cancelling the governor’s address on the pretext that this budget session is not the first one of 2022, as the previous session was not prorogued.

When the House is not prorogued and adjourned sine die, the speaker can summon the House without asking the governor to do so. The previous session was held between September 24 and October 8, 2021 and the government’s stand is that the March 7 budget session is a continuation of that session.

This development comes in the wake of the war of words between the TRS government and BJP. The issue has now become a full-blown controversy.

The questions being asked in political circles is whether the governor’s address is merely a convention or mandatory? Why the House was not prorogued after the speaker adjourned it sine die last September; and why the government had not made a proposal to the governor to prorogue the House and did the government deliberately did not prorogue the House so as to avoid the governor’s address on the pretext that it was the continuation of the previous session, and so on.

The BJP, however, slammed the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led government. State BJP president and Lok Sabha member Sanjay Kumar said the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) government had insulted a woman governor. Stating that the government’s decision was undemocratic, Kumar lambasted Chief Minister KCR.

“KCR is already giving a sense of what he wants in a rewritten Constitution. No rules, no traditions-only whims. I strongly condemn his decision to do away with the Governor’s speech to mark the budget session,” Sanjay tweeted.

Also read: How KCR slyly struck off Governor’s address from Budget Session

The TRS-led government has defended the move stating that it is neither unprecedented nor is there any anomaly in holding the assembly session without the governor’s address.

According to the finance and legislative affairs minister T Harish Rao, the government is not disregarding any convention by conducting the budget session without the governor’s address.

“There are precedents of holding a budget session of Parliament/ Assembly without governor’s address when the previous House was not prorogued. This budget session is the continuation of the session held in September-October last year. The budget sessions of Andhra Pradesh in 1970 and 2013 commenced without the Governor’s address. Similarly, the budget session of Parliament in 2004 began without the President’s address,” defended Harish Rao, adding that a governor’s address “is only an ethical issue”.

On the face of it, the government’s decision seems technically valid. Though, there is more to this move than meets the eye. This seems more about the KCR vs Modi conflict and the culmination of the long-drawn clash between the Telangana CM and the BJP.

KCR had an excellent equation with governor ESL Narasimhan

KCR however had an excellent equation with former governor ESL Narasimhan. Unlike Tamilisai who comes from the Tamil Nadu BJP unit, ESL Narasimhan was a former IPS officer. ESL had always steered clear of controversies and outside Raj Bhavan, he was more visible in temples rather than in public functions.

According to Mahesh Koride, a senior journalist from The Times of India, it was the growing “assertiveness” of governor Tamilisai that led to this cold war between Raj Bhavan and Pragathi Bhavan (CM’s official residence).

When ESL Narasimhan was in Raj Bhavan, KCR used to take his blessings often. Once he even went to the extent of touching the governor’s feet with reverence. It is difficult to imagine the same kind of bonhomie with an active BJP political leader like Tamilisai, said Koride Mahesh.

Also read: Prashant Kishor’s Telangana visit sparks talk of KCR’s national ambitions

The appointment itself caused a lot of anxiety in the TRS, pointed out Mahesh.

“The problems between Raj Bhavan and Pragati Bhavan started to emerge during the pandemic when governor Tamilisai started visiting hospitals. Later, she started holding meetings with officers much to the discomfiture of Pragathi Bhavan. In recent times, she has become even more assertive. She has opened the gates of Raj Bhavan to the Opposition parties, especially for BJP delegations,” he said.

“When the paddy procurement issue took a political turn, she even made field visits to villages to meet the farmers affected by the state government’s decision not to procure the rice,” added the journalist.

Moreover, Tamilisai also returned the nomination of a Kaushik Reddy to the legislative council under the governor’s quota. What upset the Pragathi Bhavan more was her decision to install a grievance box at the Raj Bhavan gates on January 1, 2022.

“She even thought of holding Praja Darbars at Raj Bhavan. But, the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to her plans. All these activities, which were virtually non-existent during the nine-year term of ESL Narasimhan, seem to have annoyed CM KCR, who skipped the Republic Day parade for health reasons,” said Koride Mahesh.

Political commentator Kadempalli Sudhakar Goud said the entire episode seems like a well-crafted plan by KCR’s government.

“Why was the House not prorogued? Who was responsible for it? As per the procedure, the House has to be prorogued after the adjournment of the House sine die. For this, the leader of the House has to send a communication to the speaker on the intention of the cabinet to prorogue the House. Then the proposal is submitted to the Governor. The President or Governor prorogues the House. As per the media reports, it is clear the government did not move the proposal to prorogue the House in October 2021,” said Sudhakar Goud, adding that the government had probably planned to avoid the governor’s speech much earlier.

According to Prof Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu, former member, Central Information Commission, and dean, law sciences, Mahindra University, Hyderabad, the governor’s address to the first session every new year is mandatory and the provisions of the Constitution should be honored in letter and in spirit.

“In this era of conflict between Raj Bhavan and the state governments, politics is taking precedence over the Constitution. In non-BJP governed states, the governments are searching for ways to minimise the role of BJP-nominated governors to avoid conflict. The TRS government has made use of a technical point that the House was not prorogued to skip the governor’s address,” said Acharyulu.

However, it would be difficult to say that the Telangana government had violated the Constitution, he added.

Dropping the governor’s address robs the session of its legality, observed Supreme Court advocate R Santhan Krishnan. ”It is established beyond doubt that the governor’s address to the first session of the House is a Constitutional mandate that is governed by Article 176(1) and there is no escape. In Syed Abdul Mansur Habibullah vs the Speaker, West Bengal (1965), Justice BN Banerjee of the Calcutta High Court clearly ruled that ‘the provisions of Article 176 are mandatory. Unless the provisions are completely complied with, that is to say, unless the governor delivers a speech informing the legislature of the cause of summons, the legislature cannot meet to transact the legislative business.’, he quoted.

“Since the state government is saying that the House was not prorogued and the budget session is the continuation of the previous session, this move needs to be legally scrutinised,” added Santhan Krishnan.

This episode is reminiscent of the clash of titans in the 1990s in Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister J Jayalalitha was locked in a bitter fight with governor Dr Marri Channa Reddy, a political giant from Telangana. First, she skipped the Republic Day parade and customary high-teas hosted by the governor. Later, the assembly was convened without governor Marri Channa Reddy’s address and a Bill to bring all universities under the control of the chief minister was passed. The Bill stripped Dr Reddy of his chancellorship.

But in a surprise development, after a two-year deadlock, in 1996, they both buried the hatchet and started praising each other. This particular stand-off however doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, considering the intense political rivalry between the TRS and the BJP.

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