The governor’s shastra
Those who were following reports in the press about the controversy in Karnataka, between chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and state governor H.R. Bhardwaj, were happy and relieved when the two called truce. However, it was soon clear that hostility between Mr Bhardwaj and Mr Yeddyurappa persists.
It is very difficult to define in clear terms what the ideal relationship between a governor and a chief minister should be. But the ideal beginning would be to first accept and acknowledge who has received the people’s mandate to rule. Obviously, the chief minister and his/her colleagues in the legislature and not the governor.
A governor will be respected and even loved by the people if he does not try to interfere in the job of the chief minister or try to play politics behind the scenes in order to belittle the chief minister.
The Congress has been in power at the Centre the longest and to it goes the credit of resorting to Article 356 — about 90 times till the end of the century — more than any other party. (Article 356 allows the President to dismiss a state government on the advice of the governor.) But the Janata Party, in power at the Centre for less than three years, resorted to Article 356 on no less than 20 occasions. The fact that all political parties in power have found it necessary to take action under Article 356 in some state or the other, shows that the rulers of the country found such powers indispensable. There was also the case when governments (nine in all) enjoying clear majority support in the legislature were summarily dismissed by the Central government under the Janata Party rule. Clearly, these were decisions motivated by political manoeuvring for power.
Since the removal of nine state governments had been accepted by most political parties, Indira Gandhi, the successive Prime Minister, also dismissed nine state governments on the spurious theory that the parties in power in the states had forfeited the support of the people as they had lost the subsequent elections.
The frequency and the speed with which Article 356 has been invoked in the past shows that adequate attention was not given by the governors concerned to nursing the young plant of democracy in states.
The only condition provided for imposing direct rule by the Centre is when the President is satisfied that a situation has arisen due to which the government of the state cannot function in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
In any case, the decision whether a government in a particular state can rightly claim the support of the majority of members in the House is to be taken by the Centre and not by the governor. The governor can, as provided in the Constitution, send his report giving his views whether the government can function without invoking Article 356. This is exactly the point on which Mr Bhardwaj’s demand for President’s rule calls for deep thought and very mature consideration.
The Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly, K.G. Bopaiah, had disqualified certain members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) — belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party — from holding office in October 2010. Mr Bhardwaj rushed to Delhi on May 15 with a report that it was time to resort to Article 356 because the Supreme Court had rejected the disqualification of those MLAs. The right course, which the governor could have recommended to the Centre, was to ask Mr Yeddyurappa to prove his majority after the Supreme Court’s decision.
A governor in whose political impartiality the people of the state have no respect or faith is a liability for a state.
Mr Bhardwaj doesn’t have any special expertise in any branch of administration or even in general administration. He certainly has charm and the reputation of being a party loyalist. This piece of information reached Karnataka long before he reached the state. Though Mr Bhardwaj could have easily removed the lable of “party loyalist”, he took no steps in this direction. Instead, he seemed to be seeking opportunities to bring discredit to the Yeddyurappa government and invoking Article 356 in the state. Through his actions he created the impression of a governor in a hurry to ensure the removal of the chief minister.
If the Centre thinks that there is no justification for transferring Mr Bhardwaj to any other state, a better option would be to terminate his services as governor. Also, the Centre should ensure that the successor is one who considers loyalty to law more important than loyalty to his/her party.
A bad governor will prove to be a bad governor in any place and, therefore, the Centre has to keep the interest of the people in mind while taking a decision on Mr Bhardwaj’s future.
P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra