New India, Constitutional Nicety and Myriad role of Governors

When the entire nation is celebrating holi – the festival of colours- over the extended weekend, it seems the Governor’s Office in Imphal (Manipur) and Panaji (Goa) are working overtime. Is it rendering the Office of Governor irrelevant or making a mockery of the occupant of Raisina Hills – the supposedly appointer of the governors – at the behest of South Block, PMO or party office in Ashoka Road where the victory speech was made on Sunday afternoon towards a new India by the Prime Minister to celebrate the success of ruling BJP marking an end to the electioneering in the country during last three months arising out of assembly elections in five states with Uttar Pradesh at centre stage. Elsewhere in Chandigarh, Lucknow and Dehrdun, nobody knows what Kaptan Singh Solanki (Governor of Punjab) and Ram Naik (Governor of Uttar Pradesh) and Krishna Kant Paul (Governor of Uttarakhand) are doing or even not doing anything or asked to not do anything. When contrasted with the happenings in Chennai last month, one wonders where the Governor C.H. Vidyasagar Rao were? Governors, currently under public and opposition scanner are Ms. Mridula Sinha in Goa and Ms. Najma Heptullah in Manipur – both are in the twilights of their political career and are enjoying the post retirements benefits of being senior citizen in political standard.

Poll verdict in Manipur and Goa led to a hung assembly with a fractured mandate. In the 40-member assembly in Goa, where the BJP was in power got 13 seats, the opposition Congress 18 seats, Maharastrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party got three seats each, independents, NCP getting one each and one BJP supported independent MLA Govind Gaude. What is remarkable here, is the speed at which the legislature party of Goa met, consulted with members of other so called post poll likeminded political parties and decided to elect Manohar Parikkar – the present Union Defence Minister and earlier CM of Goa as their leader and submitted the name etc. to the Governor on Sunday. Governor Ms. Sinha is appointing him as CM of Goa with swearing in ceremony to happen on Tuesday 5 p.m. and asking him to prove his majority within 15 days. The electric speed at which the Governor’s office worked on a Sunday will definitely give any efficient corporate a run for their worth towards functioning but the mute question that could be asked: was it all in right earnest or to prevent political horse trading in the state or to keep congress – the single largest party in the state assembly out of power or to retain the power by ruling BJP either by hook or by crook. No guess to say that the money and muscle power of BJP is proven in mobilising the numbers to arrive at the magic number of 21 to retain the otherwise discredited BJP government in the state where it is definitely discarded by the people at large when seen from absolute number of seats as garnered by the two major political parties. However, as the saying goes “nothing succeeds like success” and once you are in power at New Delhi, other things will automatically follow as seen in the regime of Mrs. Gandhi and early Congress rule. This might have made the stray small regional party MLAs of the state that was historically famous for political horse trading to fall into the prey of eagle eyed seasoned politicians at centre. Manohar Parikkar- who knows Goa politics inside out is the rightman to be entrusted to garner the support. Even if less is spoken on the matter but it is well understood that Raj Bhavan is becoming a mute spectator of the event as it unfolds.

After all, everything is fair in love and war, and in politics that combines both love and war. Or should we revisit Article 163.

In Manipur, the situation is not entirely different, rather it is a blatant display of discretionary arrogance by the Governor, Ms. Najma Heptullah – the former Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha and a contestant for Vice President of India who later joined BJP and was a Union Minister with PM Modi till she achieved the senior citizenship again by BJP standard and was send to Imphal for political rehabilitation. Needless to mention the audacity of Ms. Heptullah – the Governor in asking the outgoing CM of Manipur to step down even if his congress party is the single largest political party in the state with 28 seats in 60-member Manipur assembly while Heptullah’s BJP having 21 seats. But what worked in BJP’s favour in stitching up 31 MLAs in their favour in the state. It is the fresh success of the party in Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh being played with the tacit support of BJP party President Amit Shah and executed by the maverick erstwhile estranged Congress stalwart from Assam but now in BJP Mr. Himant Biswa Sharma – Convenor of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance and the Union Minister of State for Home Mr. Kiran Rajiju, both of whom are nurturing brighter prospect for themselves at New Delhi and in the region. In record time of less than a day, BJP stalwarts caught hold of MLAs from National People’s Party (4 MLAs), Naga People’s Front (4 MLAs), Ram Bilas Paswan’s LJP(1 MLA) and lone independent Ashab Uddin and T Robindro Singh of Trinamool Congress. It is also known that there were attempts to lure some Congress MLAs but that did not materialise at the last moment and rather one Congress MLA was rebuked by BJP once they were sure of the magic number 31 to form the government. There were also evidences of broad day light manhandling of independent MLA Ashab by the ruling Congress and BJP MLAs in the Imphal and Guwahati airports. It is generally believed that during the period of elections in a particular state the government of that state becomes a lame duck government and here it is the Governor who is expected to keep watch and ward on not only the political situation of the state but also law and order; and when such brazen political horse trading amounting to manhandling of the legislator was happening under her nose, was Ms. Heptullah waiting for her masters in New Delhi to pass advisory to her to act?? Given the experience and knowledge of Ms. Heptullah in constitutional procedure and practices by being the Deputy Chair of Rajya Sabha this is definitely not expected from her but alas, political and parliamentary decency are so rare a commodity now-a-days that come with a price that perhaps nobody is ready to pay . Post-retirement perks of being a Governor in the twilight years of one’s political career appears always of paramount importance than constitutional nicety.

One really does not know whether V. P. Singh Badnore , Governor of Punjab has shown any courtesy and magnanimity of inviting Captain Amrinder Singh of Congress that won 77 seats out of 117 seats to form the government by asking Baap-Beta ki Sarkar of Mr. Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhvir Singh Badal of SAD-BJP alliance of ten years to resign or not. But in Lucknow Mr. Ram Naik must be busy as an event manager to host the grandest ever swearing in ceremony of a BJP government in the state, that will happen after almost two decades. Doing the constitutional chores on the stage in future may render his presence worthless in the state and may relieve himself from the hardships of writing letters, sermons and advisory – that he has practiced so well – to the erstwhile Akhilesh Prasad Yadav’s government right from his day of appointment as the Governor of the state. Now for both these Governors – it is time for role reversal – sooner or later. In Deradun, it is mission accomplished for Mr. Krishna Kant Paul who was instrumental in destabilising the state by imposing President’s rule for a brief period in the state thus creating political fissures in ruling Congress under Harish Rawat and thereby exposing the Congress party there to various fault lines in its state units and giving the required advantage to BJP that has finally resulted in BJP coming to power there amidst anti-incumbency sentiments.

Such myriad roles of governors of Indian states over the years and in particular in recent periods may be attributed to the discretionary functions of the Governor as vested vide Article 163(1) that says there shall be a Council of Ministers…….to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions, except in so far as s/he is or under this Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in discretion. Further, Article163(2) empowers the Governor to exercise his discretions without the fear of being questioned. This provision when read in–between lines gives the Governors the swiping power and authority to perform anything and everything that their handlers at New Delhi wants befitting their political interest and what can be a more opportune time to exercise such powers and play roles to earn individual brownie points in the eyes of political top brass of the party in Centre when there is either a lame duck outgoing government from the opposition in the state or the party in power at centre is attempting to retain power in the state even though it seems difficult.

After all, everything is fair in love and war, and in politics that combines both love and war. Or should we revisit Article 163.

Profile photo of Rasananda Panda and Prashanta C Panda
Rasananda Panda is Professor of Economics, MICA, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Prashanta C Panda is Associate Professor of Economics, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat