itizens of India are hoping against hope that Apex Court will settle the issue of regular confrontation between Chief Ministers and Governors which is based on the relative and subjective interpretations of powers by the titular heads thereby weakening the roots of the democracy.
In view of a disturbing scenario relating to controversial role of the some of the over enthusiastic titular heads, state governments ruled by opposition including Punjab, Kerala, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and West Bengal have been protesting against inordinate delay in according the accent to important bills, convening of assembly sessions and appointments of vice chancellors hence they have to knock the door of the supreme court.
Supreme Court’s unhappiness over the actions of some of the governors to hold back the accent of key bills passed by assemblies including Punjab coupled with strong observation by apex court about the governors as well as chief ministers “to do a little bit of soul searching” may set a new precedent for future which will be a good omen for the health of democracy in the country.
Discretionary actions are unwarranted
Like Punjab, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had recommended the urgent convening of the assembly session to prove his majority but the governor lingered it on as he wanted to give chance to defectors led by Sachin Pilot to topple the government. In a midnight swoop, former governor of Maharashtra, Bhagat Singh Koshyagi’s decision was not upheld by Apex Court to ask the then CM, Udhaav Thakre to seek vote of trust which prompted him to resign. Several instances of governor or Lt. governor have come to light where they have ignored the recommendations of the chief ministers to convene the sessions.
Prior to his election to the post of vice president of India, Jagdeep Dhankar had open tiff with CM, Mamata Banerjee on several issues including appointments of VCs. Dhankar had taken a strong objection to the decision of Mamata government to appoint 25 VCs of the universities without his nod as Chancellor. TMC had asserted that governor ought to have approved the names which were finalised by search committees and if he refused to give approval then state education department had powers to go ahead with its decision. Dhankar took it seriously and Tweeted “Education Environ – ‘Law of ruler, not rule of law’. VCs of 24 (now 25) Universities appointed
illegally without Chancellor approval.”
SC may settle this issue
It was a recent plea of the APP government in the SC which set the ball rolling about the intentional delay in according the accent to the important bills by governor. Some aggrieved state governments have already approached the highest court in the country to get relief on an identical issue. Constitutional experts say that a new trend of targeting opposition ruled states through appointees of the center is not a harbinger a new era but may prove suicidal to the tenets of the constitution. None can deny the fact that successive political parties’ governments at the center, including Congress, have indulged in misuse of Article 356 while dismissing the elected state governments which was done through their proteges appointed as Governors from time to time. They say apex court is the last hope left with the distressed and helpless chief ministers of opposition led states to draw a clear line visa -a -vis their powers as accusations has been levelled against the center for targeting their opponents through governors.
2nd, chief ministers are in a bind when Governors start acting in an unconstitutional manner and the center remains as a ‘Silent Spectator’. Governors tend to forget that they are not elected representatives of people but nominated heads of the states which lead to confrontation with CMs.
3rd, legal experts attach a lot of importance to strong observations made by chief justice of India, D Y Chandrachud who wants governors to respect and implement the spirit and mandatory provision of Article 200 of constitution which makes it obligatory for governors to either give accent or return the bills as soon as possible.
4th, it was not only the Punjab government which has brought to the attention of the apex court an issue of ‘intentional inaction’ of the governor in seven key bills which include finance and state affiliated colleges. In a similar context, some of the opposition ruled states have also approached the supreme court citing pending bills with governors leading to unnecessary confrontation.
5th, every citizen of India is hopeful that chief justice of India as per his daring and courageous spirit may settle this core issue for ever which will put breaks on the discretionary and illogical powers of the constitutional heads which had been witnessed during previous regimes at center especially in view of the imposition rule in elected opposition states in the country.
Confronting the elected CMs
The trend of unconstitutional actions is not confined to Punjab but governors are blocking recommendations of non-BJP ruled chief ministers about convening of assembly sessions, appointments of vice chancellors besides the governors undertaking executive activities and criticising the elected chief ministers which is not permitted by the constitution. TN government had petitioned the president of India, Draupadi Murmur about the conduct of the governor to block bills which affected the functioning of the government.
It may be recalled that eight political parties had written a letter to prime minister Narender Modi in March this year and complained against the misuse of the powers in many states by governors and Lt governor. The letter had highlighted the illegal actions of governors and misuse of investigating agencies in Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra etc. but nothing happened. The opposition parties in Tamil Nadu were up in arms against the governor and urged the center to take action against him. Assembly speaker, M Appavu had lambasted the governor and criticized the illegal action which smacks of some hidden agenda. Appavu was aghast over the action of the governor and unable to understand the reason for the confrontationist attitude adopted by the governor with the state government.
In another gross violation of the constitution, Tamil Nadu governor R.N.Ravi had dismissed a minister. it all started in January, 2023 when he omitted certain paragraphs from the text prepared by chief minister, M.K.Stalin’s government and walked out of the assembly which was reminiscent of an identical bizarre episode of walk out by the then governor West Bengal, Padamja Naidu in Feb 1965. In an extreme case of a step taken by the Tamil Nadu CM state assembly passed two bills in 2022 which empowered the state to appoint vice-chancellors to 13 universities, curtailing the governor’s power which had led to direct confrontation.
SC verdict in Maharashtra speaker’s case
Supreme Court had delivered two unique and historical verdicts about Maharashtra imbroglio and powers of Lt. governor, Union Territory Delhi which could have far reaching effects on the role of “Puppet” governors appointed by the government of the day at center to rule through ‘Proxy’ and extra constitutional authority exercised by the center to undermine the sanctity of elected government like AAP government in the national capital. Notwithstanding the fact that Shinde government had survived due to blunder committed by Udhav Thakre, who resigned on moral ground and refrained from facing floor test, legal experts said that as per apex court, the foundation of the government was illegal as governor had exercised the powers which were not vested in him by the constitution of India.
Analysts believe that unless the center tightens the noose around over enthusiastic governors, it will be living in fool’s paradise to expect any let up in confrontation between chief ministers and governors though there is a ray of hope from the supreme court which may settle this issue to strengthen the democracy.
(K.S. TOMAR, Political Analyst and Senior Journalist based in Shimla)