The two most delicate and sensitive sets of provisions of India's Constitution pertain to the relations between the President and the Prime Minister at the Centre and the Governors and Chief Ministers in the States. Even the appearance of a divergence of approaches at those levels can do much harm, and any attempt on their part to disregard the bounds set by the Constitution, and allow their mutual relations to sour can vitiate the sanctity of the Constitution and pose a danger to the security and stability of the country itself.

Hence, the highest Constitutional entities at the Centre and in the States are expected to display in their public conduct the spirit of nobility, tolerance and tact associated with their high offices. However, it is natural for personalities with their own public standing to have honest differences of opinion.

For instance, Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru did not see eye to eye on the connotation of secularism and the Hindu Code Bill, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan chided Nehru in public on the China policy, B.D. Jatti dilly-dallied over the Janata Government's proposal for a mass dismissal of State Governments immediately after it came to power, and Giani Zail Singh withheld assent to the Postal Bill passed by Parliament at Rajiv Gandhi's instance.

Indeed, the nation passed through some anxious moments over rumours that the Giani was even preparing himself to dismiss Rajiv Gandhi on other grounds. Fortunately for India, the relations between the Presidents and the Prime Ministers have largely been exemplary.

PUBLIC SPECTACLE

Regrettably, the same cannot be said of the Governors and the Chief Ministers. Judged from the unseemly controversies that have been erupting on a regular basis in one State or another, India's long experience as a functioning democratic republic has apparently not been sufficient to bring a degree of maturity and mellowness to bear on the relations between the Governors and Chief Ministers.

In the period after Independence, almost no State has been exempt from instances of their falling out and making a public spectacle of it. The recent spats in Karnataka and Gujarat further lays bare the continuing fragility and volatility in the relations between the two exalted functionaries who are supposed to set a lofty example of decorum and decency to the people at large and maintain high standards of public conduct and discourse.

There is no need to dwell on the merits of the issues leading to the slanging match in the two States, or similar contretemps in other States. Suffice it to say that such deplorable scenes only demonstrate the utter failure of both Constitutional authorities to follow the practice of constant consultations on matters of state with a view to arriving at a purposeful course of action, adhering to the imperatives of public interest and public weal.

DEAD LETTER

Many of the problems bedevilling their relationship can be traced to the way the choice for the post of the Governor is made, and the confusion that still persists about his role. The Sarkaria Commision on Centre-State Relations had listed a number of criteria in this regard, such as: Excluding persons with a political background or hoping to be active in politics and, in particular, not appointing a politician from the ruling party/combine at the Centre to a State run by another party/combine.

It also laid down that the Vice-President of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha should have a say in the choice, and there should be effective prior consultation with the Chief Minister as well. These recommendations have remained a dead letter.

The confusion over the role arises from some of the Governors viewing themselves as agents of the Centre and not as the first servants of the States to which they are posted, binding themselves by their oath to devote themselves “to the service and well-being of the people of the State”.

These dichotomies deserve to be thrashed out in a meeting of the National Integration Council and proper guidelines framed to ensure harmonious relations among the top Constitutional authorities.

(This article was published on October 13, 2011)
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