In a recent speech, the president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, advised governors to emerge from the Raj Bhawan and take an active role in fighting the ills that plague politics. By repudiating the prevailing concept of a “passive” governor, the president wants to make governors active participants in politics.
According to the president, governors, especially in eastern India, should perform three major functions. First, they should liaise with other states in order to put up a united fight against terrorism and communalism. These have reached dangerous levels in the region and no province can hope to effectively cope with the crisis individually.
Second, Kalam stressed upon the importance of gubernatorial initiative in providing basic services in rural areas. The poor in the villages continue to be deprived of shelter, education, healthcare, transport facilities and so on. If governors were to take the initiative of acquiring first hand information from the destitute, they would be better placed to recommend remedial measures to the cabinet. They could even approach the Centre for this.
Third, the president suggested that governors, as both head of a province and the Centre’s representative, should work to further Centre-state amity.
But, can the governor can assume such an important and active political role' It is the writ of the cabinet that runs in the states, and the politicians expect the governor to assume a passive role. They are hardly likely to make way for the governor, as envisaged by the president.
In the “Westminster model” of governance that India has adopted, the governor is a nominal head who has no real power and must normally act upon the advice of the cabinet. Legally speaking, he rules according to the cabinet’s advice. If governors now step out of this framework in accordance with the president’s wishes, they will surely be condemned by the state politicians for their alleged “activism”.
Article 163 (1) of the Constitution allows governors certain “discretionary” powers which can be exercised without ministerial advice and, even against the desire of the cabinet. Significantly such powers are left undefined and Article 163 (2) states that the governor himself can decide the spheres in which such authority can be exercised. Even the judiciary cannot question the validity of such discretionary acts, since, “the decision of the Governor shall be final”.
Strangely however, this article is treated as a “drafting anomaly”, the right constitutional position being that the governor must always act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet.
Moreover, the role of the governor depends a lot on the people in power and the political conditions. In the early years after independence, when leaders like B.C. Roy, C. Rajagopalachari, B.G. Kher, K. Kamraj, and G.B. Pant, who shared very cordial relations with Central leaders, were chief ministers, governors had little opportunity to assert themselves.
For example, Sarojini Naidu, the first governor of Uttar Pradesh, felt like a “bird in a cage” and N. Kanungo in Bihar regarded himself as merely a “dignified hotel-keeper”.
But things changed after 1967. when the Congress split and non-Congress coalition cabinets came to power in eight states. The rift among coalition partners and pre- ssures from the Centre enabled governors to exercise powers that had for long remained unused.
B.R. Ambedkar had envisioned that the governor would act as the “friend, philosopher and guide” of the cabinet. But it seems that the men in power would prefer him to remain a sleeping partner in the administration.
A Calcutta high court judge once remarked that the governor was like the referee who needed to blow his whistle when one side played foul. Sadly, politics is one game where the players want to win always, with or without the support of the referee.