Gubernatorial choices – BJP errs — Civil Service essay
The Loaves and Fishes of Governors’ posts – Time for a relook –Civil Service essay
For almost four decades, we have seen parties with opposing ideologies and adversarial relationships occupying power in the centre and in states. In such a scenario, it is natural that governors being drawn into controversy. Governors are the President’s representative, but their selection and posting is done as per the central government’s recommendations. The President seldom ignores the government’s views in the matter. Such an arrangement leads to unsavoury aspersions against the Governors.
However, the fact remains that some pliant governors go to ridiculous lengths to take partisan positions especially when no party wins a clear majority in the state elections. Later, if the ruling coalition tends to or actually loses majority, the governors become openly partisan. If the government is not of the same party ruling at the centre, they show great promptness in recommending its dissolution. The opposite happens when the beleaguered government belongs to the same party at the centre. There are instances galore when the governors have acted openly as the political agents of the centre forgetting their duty to act impartially and protect the Constitution. There are some shameful cases where they have allowed Raj Bhavans to be used as the ruling party’s campaign office. In short, the neutrality and apolitical approach which should be the hallmarks of gubernatorial functions are conveniently sacrificed to keep the political bosses at centre in good humour. The loaves and fishes attached to these jobs are huge and ordinary mortals find it hard to let go of it.
Given the fractured verdicts people give in elections, inviting or not inviting a claimant is a tricky job. Also, overseeing the state government’s functions as the sentinel of the Constitution needs great political wisdom and deep understanding of constitutional law. Neutrality and fierce loyalty to the Constitution are absolutely essential on the part of the governors. Such qualifying can only be expected from public personalities of great eminence. Ageing politicians and those defeated in elections are considered as redundant for the parties they belong. To reward them for their past service to the party and keep their residual political base in good humour, these openly political persons are given gubernatorial postings. Merit is rarely considered while selecting candidates for the constitutional post. All political parties have been doing this so brazenly.
Now the time has come to redraw the selection process. Past record of achievement in their respective, record of service and ability to discern delicate political situations through the lens of the Constitution should be the qualifying criteria for appointment to the post of governors. People, who have worked for a political party throughout their career can never be impartial in their judgments.
The National Democratic Alliance government had a unique opportunity to highlight its political maturity and democratic credentials while appointing new Governors. But, it has squandered it. Choosing eminent personalities outside the political realm was recommended by the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations. The Modi-led NDA government could have set a healthy precedent by abiding by such well-intentioned suggestions. It could have been a bold step towards restoring dignity of the governors’ posts. Sadly, the old obnoxious system of bestowing favours on old discarded politicians has been continued. This is a major failing of the NDA government.
All the five new Governors appointed by it, for Uttar Pradesh (Ram Naik), Gujarat (O.P. Kohli), West Bengal (Keshari Nath Tripathi), Chhattisgarh (Balramji Dass Tandon) and Nagaland (Padmanabha Acharya), were active members of the BJP till the other day. Their age underscores the fact that they are facing the sunset days of their lives. The comforts of the Raj Bhavans will provide them ample geriatric care at taxpayers’ cost. The youngest of them is 78 and the oldest 87.
It would be naïve to ignore the changing public mood in recent times. The people want to see far greater accountability in public life. They aspire to see positive changes in the way public affairs are conducted. Sadly, this clear and loud message appears to have fallen on deaf years of the BJP, Congress and most other parties. All of these parties had promised to bring about the above changes in politics and governance when they campaigned for votes. As soon as the dust of the election settled down, this promise has been thrown out of the window.
There is no hint that the NDA would be guided by the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission in future. The Commission had wanted that a Governor should be someone eminent in some walk of life, and should not be one “who has taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past”. The Congress did many odious things to gnaw at and eventually undermine the many independent institutions of the country. The BJP, as the opposition party, had vociferously condemned. Now, it traces the footsteps of the Congress Party with no regard for the public sentiments.