Totally irrelevant

Updated on: Sep 13, 2016

The post of Governor is a colonial hangover

Three chief ministers, namely Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, besides the Communist Party of India, urged the Government to abolish the position of Governor during the 11th Inter-State Council meeting held at New Delhi last month. Each of them had their own reasons. Lately governors, have courted controversy, being seen as Delhi’s instruments to oust non-BJP chief ministers in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

After the recent controversies, it appears that either the governors realise their shelf lives have expired or else the new government transfers them to farflung locations, which defeats their need to remain close to New Delhi. This arbitrary action reinforces the fact that their appointments are purely political and thereby detract from the non-partisan character of their office.

Colonial legacy

As chief minister, Narendra Modi himself had a rough relationship with Governor Kamala Beniwal in Gujarat and found him an obstacle to his development goals. However, after Modi assumed office, there was a change of seven governors. This has become accepted political behaviour and is not disputed judicially.

The post is a colonial legacy and today amounts to a political anachronism. The position enjoys constitutional privileges which include immunity from criminal liability in a personal capacity, special treatment in civil disputes, and immunity for acts done in an official capacity. Clearly these privileges replicate what the British rulers created for themselves in different political and social contexts — completely irrelevant in a democracy.

After Independence, Constituent Assembly debates highlighted the Governor’s relevance, especially in the context of secession that threatened the country’s integrity and stability. However, the threat of separatist tendencies has receded and the country has stabilised as a political entity today; this brings into sharp focus the role and relevance of the Governor as an agent of the Centre.

Advisory capacity

The Governor’s role is to advise New Delhi on the political stability of the State and whether or not to impose President’s rule there. Often this involves misinforming the Centre of the political realities. The recent instances in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand with the Supreme Court criticising the Governor’s role, substantiate the fact that the Centre sought to usurp power through the Governor. Today the ruling party in a State which is not allied to the Centre perceives the Governor as a threat to its political stability.

Further, the financial burden of governors is immense considering the staff employed at the Raj Bhavans. All this expenditure is made purely to project pomp, given the ceremonial role of the Governor. The Constitution only has two criteria for the appointment of a Governor: he/she should be a citizen of India and above 35 years of years. These guidelines for eligibility encourage the Centre to appoint people who are politically aligned with the ruling party.

It is high time the Indian political system shed its colonial legacy. The institution of the Governor has become irrelevant. The duties of the Governor could be shared by the Chief Justice, the Chief Minister and the Speaker of the State. The President should be able to offer his/her opinion on matters of constitutional clarity. This is the only way to abolish an institution that serves no purpose.

Singh is an assistant professor, and Bhagirath a student at the School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru

Published on March 09, 2018

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