Governor's 5-year tenure
"Subject to" President's "pleasure"
By Amba Charan Vashishth
It is ironical that the Congress party is today critical of the NDA government move to seek resignations of the Congress-appointed governors — the same Congress which on coming into power in 2004 was quick to remove the NDA appointed governors on the plea that they were not in sync with its ideology. What was right for Congress in 2004 is looking wrong to it in 2014.
The office of governor, we all know, is a legacy of the British raj. It is a different matter if on attaining freedom we adopted it as an institution of the Constitution. Before independence or after, the role of a governor has not changed a bit. Earlier, he functioned in the State as an agent of the Government at the Centre to promote and protect the interests of the British Crown. Now, he keeps a watchful eye the concerns of the Union government which, in effect, means the ruling party/alliance commanding a majority in the Lok Sabha.
The mode of selection and appointment of governors before and after independence remains the same. It was pick-and-choose during the British rule and it continues to be the same under the Indian republic. The British had governors whose commitment to the Crown could not be questioned. The alien government never gambled for an Indian as governor even when the latter stood true to Lord Macaulay's test of their being "Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect".
Deliberately or otherwise, the provision in the Constitution for selection as governor has been made as easy and simple as it could be. Any " citizen of India" having "completed the age of thirty-five years" (Article 157) is qualified to be a governor.
Till 1962, elections to Parliament and State assemblies were conducted simultaneously and the same party ruled in the State and at the Centre. But things changed in 1967 elections when the phenomenon of alliance governments in some States emerged while Congress continued to rule at the Centre. In later years, with different political parties assuming power in different States and with the advent of the phenomenon of alliance governments at the Centre, conflicts between the governors appointed by a ruling party at the Centre in States ruled by different parties, came to a head.
The feeling that governors were "friends and guides" of the Council of Ministers in a State is a misnomer in the present political reality. Concept of apolitical governors is unreal and unnatural. This post is, perhaps, the only office one cannot get as a matter of right on the strength of merit. It is a pure discretion and favour bestowed on the individual.
Things would have been ideal had a person once appointed a governor renunciated politics for ever to function without fear or favour as a true representative of the Central government free to act in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. But the reality is the opposite.We have numerous instances of governors like Buta Singh, Ram Lal, Romesh Bhandari and S. C. Jamir who transgressed their authority under the Constitution. Their conduct was adversely commented upon by the courts. Some had to quit because of their constitutional misdemeanor.
There are numerous instances where the hermits in Raj Bhawans have renounced their sanyas to occupy the coveted offices of ministers at the Centre and chief ministers in States. One can easily fathom the shallowness of the sense of fairness, impartiality and commitment to uphold the Constitution expected from such people.
That Article 176(3) of the Constitution provides for "a term of five years" for a governor is a clear indication of the intention of the framers of the Constitution to make the term of the governor almost co-terminus with that of the government.. By the time a new government takes over following a fresh mandate after five years, the governors appointed by the previous regime would more or less be about to complete their tenure. This gave the new government a breathing time to make a free choice to man the Raj Bhawans with persons of their liking.
Problems arise whenever there is change of guards like the one in the last decade in 2004 and now in 2014. The remedy lies in trying to appreciate the spirit of the Constitution which provides for a tenure of five years for the members of the Lok Sabha, State assemblies, President and Vice-President of India. This was obviously done to turn all such appointments co-terminus with that of the new government for its harmonious functioning. This impression is further fortified by Article 64 providing that the Vice-President would be the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha but did not provide for a term of six years for him as that of members of the Rajya Sabha he/she presides.
Appointment of governors is purely a political exercise motivated by political considerations. Therefore, it is desirable that governors resign following a change of guards at the Centre.
A five-year term for a governor is not absolute. Article 156(3) makes it "Subject to the foregoing provisions of this article" where the foregoing Article 156(1) makes his tenure conditional "during the pleasure of the President". President's "pleasure" cannot be restricted just to his making a governor's appointment and turning him paralytic when it came to withdraw his "pleasure" in the changed scenario emerging out of a fresh mandate to a new government. In such a situation, President's "pleasure" becomes a redundant and laughable provision.
It is not necessary for the President to record and communicate in writing in the letter of appointment to a governor why he/she was singled out for selection. On the same analogy h0w can it be incumbent on the former's part to convey in writing why the "pleasure" was withdrawn.
Also published in the September 2014 issue of the SOUTH ASIA POLITICS magazine.