The Office of the Governor

The origins of the office of Governor

Through the course of the early 20th century, the Indian nationalist movement managed to extract gradual and incremental reforms towards responsible government from the British rulers. These reforms culminated in the Government of India Act, 1935 which established provincial legislative assemblies elected from a limited franchise. However, in order to ensure that overriding power remained with the British, the Act retained the post of Governor (a holdover from the old, “diarchy” system), and vested him with “special responsibilities” that, in essence, allowed for intervention at will. Many constituent assembly members were critical of the office of the Governor. However, the constituent assembly chose to retain the office of the Governor and vested the office of the Governor with discretionary powers.

Why was the office of Governor needed: Defenders of the office raised two broad arguments:

  • that there was a dearth of competent legislators in the States;
  • that a certain amount of centralisation of power was necessary in a nascent state such as India.

Driven by concerns about maintaining national integrity and preventing disintegration in the teeth of the trauma of Partition, the framers of the Constitution were of the view that the office of the Governor represented one “choke point” in the Constitution (ordinances and emergencies are others), where federalism and the popular will were to be kept in check from the threats like secession, if the occasion ever arose.

Where did the problem arise?

However, the post of Governor has been empowered enough discretion where it can be misused without any check. The Governor has enough discretion to skew the political process in the direction that the Central government desires. As per the Constitution, the Governor can use his/her discretion in the appointment of chief minister of a state when no party has a clear-cut majority in the state legislative assembly.

For example, soon after the first general elections, the State of Madras went to the polls in 1952. In a 375-member Assembly, the United Democratic Front (UDF), a coalition of parties, held 166 seats. The Congress finished with 152. The Governor, Sri Prakasa, ignored the UDF’s claim to form the government, and instead invited the Congress, which did form the government. Similar situations arose recently in May 2018 in Karnataka where the Governor of the State, Vajubhai Vala, decided to first invite the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the government exercising his constitutional discretion albeit without any recorded reasons for ignoring the post-poll Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance’s claims to having an absolute majority.

Source: The Hindu

The role of the governor in polity.

Under the constitutional scheme, the Governor’s mandate is substantial. The Governor’s office has been tasked with:

  • Overseeing government formation.
  • Reporting on the breakdown of constitutional machinery in a State.
  • Maintaining the chain of command between the Centre and the State.
  • Reserve his assent to Bills passed by the State Legislature.
  • Promulgate ordinances if the need arises.
  • Under Article 355, the Governor, being the Central authority in a State, acts as an overseer.

Issues and solutions relating to the office of the Governor:

  • Method of Appointment of Governors – There are numerous examples of the Governor’s position being abused, usually at the behest of the ruling party at the Centre. The root lies in the process of appointment itself. The post has been reduced to becoming a retirement package for politicians for being politically faithful to the government of the day. A possible solution would be not to nominate career politicians and choose “eminent persons” from other walks of life. Both the Sarkaria and M.M. Punchhi Commissions seem to hint at this.
  • Security of tenure – One has to consider the verdict of the Supreme Court in B.P. Singhal v. Union of India , on interpreting Article 156 of the Constitution and the arbitrary removal of Governors before the expiration of their tenure. This judgment is crucial since a fixed tenure for Governors could go quite far in encouraging neutrality and fairness in the discharge of their duties, unmindful of the dispensation at the Centre.
  • Ensuring proper checks and balances –  There is a need to ensure proper checks and balances to streamline the functioning of this office to i.e. to clearly specify the rules governing government formation (in case of a deadlock) in the Constitution itself.

Source: The Hindu