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An avoidable mess

By K.K. Katyal

NEW DELHI: Sacking of Governors — or for that matter, removal of any constitutional authority — is a distasteful action. As such, the dismissal by the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, of four Governors, all appointees of the previous Government, could better have been avoided — perhaps by voluntary resignations on their part. The sacking per se smacks of a failure of the normal functioning of the relevant Constitutional provisions. The Government's critics have used harsher words, calling it unconstitutional or distortion of the basic law of the land.

Assuming that it is so, the present action is only the culmination of a series of steps, deforming the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution. It began with the appointment of the four worthies — Vishnu Kant Shastri (Uttar Pradesh), Babu Parmanand (Haryana), Kailashpati Mishra (Gujarat) and Kidar Nath Sahani (Goa). All of them have a Sangh background, having been active members of the RSS. They ought not to have been appointed at the first instance. Now that the government at the Centre has changed, they were caught up by the logic (or illogic) of the past distortions and were forced out of their respective Raj Bhavans. The presidential action, taken on the advice of the present Government, inexplicably, spares two others, falling in the same category — Madanlal Khurana of Rajasthan and Rama Jois of Bihar.

Original sin

The political establishment, irrespective of the complexion of the party in power, had shown scant regard — nay, even, shown disdain — for the soundness of the conventions that needed to govern the functioning of the institution of Governors. The Congress committed the original sin during the period it had had the monopoly of power at the Centre. It made full use of the gubernatorial posts to accommodate those of its members, who were either rejected by the people in elections or otherwise considered worthy of rewards for the services rendered to the party bosses. These appointees were used — without even a trace of remorse — to serve the interests of the central leadership. There were instances when the proclamation for the takeover of the State's administration was drafted by the Home Ministry and sent to the Governor concerned to serve as the basis of his report to the President that "the Government of the State could not be carried in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution." I had been witness in at least two cases to discussions by Governors on the choice of Congress candidates on the eve of the elections in that State.

The NDA Government not only made ample full use of the precedent set by the Congress but also "improved" upon it. As a result, we saw the unseemly spectacles of the RSS ``pracharaks'' sent to Raj Bhavans. They unashamedly served the "cause" and the philosophy of that organisation, disregarding the obligations and duties that go with the high office. What else was the meaning of the conduct of the Governor of Gujarat, an erstwhile RSS activist, who remained a silent onlooker to the communal pogrom?

Those who had thought that the Congress would learn the lessons from the misuse of the Governors' posts by the BJP-led coalition would have to revise their opinion. The present Government did not lose much time in filling the two vacancies last month by the Congress members who had been defeated in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

A President's account

There were two instances in the past when the change of the government at the Centre lead to removal of Governors — in 1990 and 1998. The details of the first case have been narrated by the President of the day, R. Venkataraman, in his book, My Presidential Years. Here is his account: "On January 14, 1990, Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed called on me and showed me a list of Governors whom he wanted to remove and hinted that I might convey this information to them. I felt that if I conveyed it to some Governors it might create an impression that I wanted some to go and some to stay. We then discussed the issue and, in consultation with the Prime Minister, decided that resignation of all the Governors might be sought and resignation of those accepted whom the Government wanted to change.... In accordance with the decision to call for resignation of all Governors, I sent a letter to them which ran as follows: `Dear Governor, I am advised that the Government wishes to change the Governor of your State. Your resignation may, therefore, be forwarded at your earlier convenience'." In 1998, the NDA changed some of the appointees of the "caretaker" United Front Government.

An important aspect of the Governor's role was underscored by the Supreme Court in 1979 thus: "It is no doubt true that the Governor is appointed by the President which means in effect and substance the Government of India but that is only a mode of appointment and it does not make the Governor an employee or servant of the Government of India.... The Governor is the head of the State and holds a high Constitutional office which carries with it important constitutional functions and duties."

It is a pity that the Governors be sought to be made a pawn in the petty partisan games, thus discrediting the great institution.

Advice ignored

Not that the political bosses were not warned, but they ignored the sound advice offered by commissions and other similar bodies from time to time. For instance, the Sarkaria Commission, in its recommendations on Centre-State relations, was categorical that those appointed to the gubernatorial posts should be persons who have "not taken too great a part in politics generally and particularly in the recent past." The Constitution Review Commission, to cite another example, was harsh on the manner this institution had been treated — "By and large, the picture has not been an inspiring one. This is because very often, active politicians, politicians defeated at the polls and men lacking in integrity and fairness and individuals not possessing an understanding of the constitutional system were chosen for this office."

The mess of the type, caused by the sacking episode, could have been avoided if these sound pieces of advice had been heeded.

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