Marriage-Honeymoon-Divorce And The Governor

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Recent 'Marriage-Honeymoon-Divorce' story of Janata Dal (Secular), Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka demonstrated the worst form of coalition politics in the history of Indian Democracy. Blatant betrayal of mutually agreed principles, political opportunism, nepotism, corruption, were evident from the few days political tamasha. JD(S), ideologically a secular party, first betrayed the trust of Congress in 2006 to join hands with the communal party (BJP), which is against its fundamental political ideology. After enjoying the political honeymoon for 20 months, JD(S) was yet again shamelessly looking towards Congress' support just to get into the corridors of power. When the hopes of outside support from Congress was dramatically turned down by the high command, Power hungry politicians yet again made an attempt for remarriage between JD(S) and BJP!

Thanks to Governor Shri Rameshwar Thakur who has shown a non partisan character in exercising his constitutional duties (Recommending President's rule at the right time). If Mr.Kumaraswamy had agreed to go for floor test (an exercise of testing whether the chief minister has majority support in the house/floor of the assembly) on October 18th, or if BJP had made a serious attempt to form a government at last minute, the Governor could have faced a dilemma of whether to recommend the President's rule or not. In either case Governor's impartiality and commitment to constitutionalism would have been put to a serious test. Because, there could have been a peculiar situation of government formation before President's rule and the dissolution of the Assembly! In the 60 years history of Indian Democracy, many governors have blatantly misused the Constitutional power under the Article 356. Until 1967 there were no conflicting opinions about Governor's role in the states since Congress enjoyed an absolute majority in all most all the states. But 1967 general elections reduced Congress into a minority in eight states! This posed new challenges to the Governor. For example, If there is no clear majority in the state legislature, should Governor invite the leader from single largest party or should he invite the leader from the opposition party or should he invite the leader from group of parties to form the government? Such questions made Governor's discretionary powers more powerful and equally controversial.

When Mr. Venkat Subbaiah was the Governor of Karnataka in 1989, he dismissed the Chief Minister S. R. Bommai without even giving an opportunity for floor test to prove the majority. Mr. Bommai appealed against governor's blatant action in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in its historic March 1994 judgment in S. R. Bommai vs. Union of India case declared that in the midst of conflicting political claims, a floor test in the Assembly (as opposed to a head count in the Raj Bhavan) is the only legitimate way of ascertaining who has the majority. Thus the blatant misuse of Article 356 (Power of President's rule in the states) was considerably curtailed. Further, Supreme Court in its January 2006 judgment on the Bihar Assembly Dissolution case declared that horse trading cannot be the basis of invoking Article 356 to bring the State under President's rule. (In May 2005, the Governor of Bihar, Mr. Buta Singh recommended the President's rule in Bihar stating that the decision was to prevent horse-trading and formation of government through foul means. However the actual intention was to prevent Mr.Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (United) to form government, which was clearly the intention of the center! Later Mr. Nitish Kumar went on to win the Assembly elections and became the Chief Minister of Bihar!). Yet another worst case was seen in Goa in 1994. In 1994, the Governor of Goa, Mr. Bhanu Pratap Singh, dismissed the CM of Goa though the CM D'Souza enjoyed the majority in the Goa assembly. Later the Governor even administered the oath of office to D'Souza's closest rival Mr. Ravi Naik. After this event the governor was dismissed unceremoniously!

Why do we see such unethical and partisan behavior of Governors in one of the most respected democracy in the world? The reasons could be,
  1. Choosing the governors from among the active politicians.
  2. Appointment of governors without even consulting the state's Chief minister.
  3. Loyalty of the Governor to the party ruling at the center (If the ruling party in state is different from that in center).
  4. Frequent forwarding of bills passed by legislative assembly for President's consideration.
  5. Making unnecessary public statements by the governor.
  6. Direct interaction of the governor with the state officials by passing the CM and his council of ministers.
In the interest of the center-state relations its very important that the governor's post has to be kept away from the partisan politics. "Sarkaria Commission" recommended various measures to curtail the partisan behavior of Governor.
  1. He should not be from the state where he is going to be the governor. (This recommendation is being followed).
  2. It is preferable not to appoint the active politicians as governors. This is not being followed. For example, The Governor of Maharashtra, Mr.S.M. Krishna was an active politician, in fact he was the CM of Karnataka, before he became governor.
  3. CM of the state must be consulted before appointing the governor. (This is not always followed, especially when the party ruling the state and the center are different).
  4. Governor's power to forward the bills to president (under Article 200) should be limited. (Not implemented).
Not all the recommendations of Sarkaria Commission are implemented by government. Recent Goa crisis, earlier political uncertainties in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisghar, Assam and many other states have clearly indicated that there is an urgent need to observe the recommendations made by Sarkaria Commission and also to keep the Governor's post away from partisan Politics. Karnataka Governor Shri Rameshwar Thakur's action seems to be healthy and commendable. Now that the fun games are effectively over in Karnataka, going to the people for a fresh mandate is the only course available"[The Hindu, October 10, 2007]. The election commission and the center should ensure fair elections in the state as soon as possible.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.