Arunachal Pradesh Governor J P Rajkhowa’ decision to order convening of the state assembly proceedings in a school premises has again accentuated the debate that Governor’s office continues to be embroiled in controversies.
The Governor of Arunachal Pradesh J P Rajkhowa has made news in recent weeks. But more than hitting the headlines, he has yet again revived the debate about the powers and responsibilities of the gubernatorial post. Looking deep it ought to be stated that the office of the Governors is actually linked to a basic feature of our Constitution – the federalism. The Modi regime has rediscovered a phrase called ‘cooperative federalism’ trying to give a new spin to distribution of powers.
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That Rajkhowa is a BJP appointee and his role possibly putting weight behind Congress rebels in the on-going dissidence activity has given an impression that the constitutional position was being used to help the saffron party achieve political goals vis-à-vis the Congress.
The BJP that rules the centre is not the ruling party in several states. This obviously gives added urgency to the question of a proper redistribution of power between the centre and the states.
Rajkhowa’ decision to order convening of the state assembly – that ostensibly would have helped Congress rebels – has accentuated the debate that Governors office has been ‘abused’ in the past and is again being abused. Rajkhowa in fact joins the illustrious (sic) league of past Governors in northeastern states who had their share of controversy.
Romesh Bhandari had made news in Tripura while the likes of Oudh Narayan Shrivastava and M M Thomas had their share of the cake in Manipur and Nagaland respectively. But talking about Arunachal Pradesh and the latest round of controversy, one finds a sense in the words of BJP state unit president Tai Tagak who says, “The recent political drama in Arunachal Pradesh presented the people of the state in poor light”. Defection is a menace in the politics of northeastern states. If such unscrupulous defections of the law makers continue, can the people of these states project the good image of the region in this manner?
But was the Governor right in his decision? His order has been put on stay by the Guwahati High Court. Exercising his powers as provided under Article 174 (Clause 1) of the Constitution, Governor Rajkhowa had summoned the House. His office maintains that Governors enjoy discretionary powers.
However, the Guwahati High Court had stayed the decision of the Governor to hold the proceedings of the House in the makeshift premises. Predictably the episode provided yet another ammunition to the Congress in Rajya Sabha to stall the proceedings. But the bigger controversy on the role and powers of the Governors remain.
To state a truism, this is an age old syndrome since 1960s and has hardly been attended to effectively. In the words of eminent jurist, Soli Sorabjee, andhad spoken in different context earlier – “it will be no exaggeration to say that no institution or constitutional office in the country has suffered greater erosion than the office of the Governor”.
The text book makes it clear that a Governor of a state is a constitutional representative and not subject to the dictates of the centre. But as because he/she holds the office till the pleasure of the President of India – the central government irrespective of party affiliations has been trying to force the Governors play its game. This brings us to the crux of the issue – on what really needs to be done to change the system.
There is also a microscopic minority among opinion makers – who find the post of Governors rather decorative, pompous and also futile. Many years ago, P Upendra, the Information and Broadcasting Minister in V P Singh ministry had said, “a time may come when the institution of the Governor itself may be dispensed with and the ceremonial functions of the Governor performed by the Chief Justice of the High Court”. Alternatively, however, many others have spoken about the need to do away with the discretionary powers of the Governors.
This school of thought largely sees the office of Governor as an ‘irritant’ in the centre-state relations. The oft-repeated official line that Governor is the ‘watchdog’ of the centre in effect cuts at the very root of the state autonomy as enshrined in the federal politics. The latest Arunachal crisis is a serious development and in more ways than one reflect a case of constitutional breakdown. While the Chief Minister Nabam Tuki remains in office, there have been reports that the rebel MLAs were boycotting a series of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meetings since November 8.
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Perhaps Governor Rajkhowa had his argument to take his decision and allowed trial of strength. Now with the stay order on the assembly proceedings from the Guwahati High Court, the matter is subjudice. But the public debate on the merits of Governor’s office and certain discretionary powers vested in him needs a closer look.
There must be a review whether Article 356-357 that allows Centre the power to dismiss the state government or dissolve a state assembly or both should be deleted. All this amounts to recommending that like in the case of centre – whenever there’s a constitutional crisis – the ball must be sent back to the people for a snap poll. One is, however, aware that such a positioning can be impractical at times especially with the border-states afflicted with insurgency. Breaking this stalemate is the challenge.