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From the Congress to the BJP, Why Our States Have Biased Governors

For more than half a century, the Congress party has done exactly what they are opposing the BJP for doing today. 

Updated
Politics
4 min read

Cameraperson: Athar Rather

If you’re done criticising Governor Vajubhai Vala and his handling of the Karnataka election results, let me remind you about something. This isn’t the first time that a governor of a state has acted in a partisan and biased manner. In no way will it be the last, either.

For more than half a century, the Congress party has done exactly what they are accusing the BJP of doing today. So, my fellow Indians, on this issue of partisan governors, I Have A Question.

Why should governors have the ability to act in a partisan fashion and serve the agendas of parties they belonged to, or are closer to?

From the Congress to the BJP, Why Our States Have Biased Governors

To understand this issue, let’s go into flashback mode.

Right After India’s First Ever Election...

Here’s what happened in 1952, after independent India’s first election.

In the 375-member Madras Assembly:

  • The motley coalition of the United Front, led by T Prakasam, got 166 seats.
  • It included Prakasam’s Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, the Communist Party of India, and the Tamil Nadu Toilers Party, among others.
  • The Congress got 152 seats – that’s 14 seats lesser than the coalition.

But what did the Governor of Madras do?

The governor rejected Prakasam’s claim and called C Rajagopalachari from the Congress to form the government. He wasn’t even an MLA! The governor made sure to first nominate him to the Legislative Council, or the upper house.

The coalition fell apart and a Congress government was formed. Convenient, isn’t it?
C Rajagopalachari, in a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru.
C Rajagopalachari, in a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru.
(Photo courtesy: @ArchiveIndia)
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It’s Been 66 Years Since

Unfortunately for India, very little has changed. The same story has repeated itself, year after year, election after election.

And here’s why. Governors, at the end of the day, are political appointees – explicitly political appointees.

A governor is appointed by the President of India, but the President acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers at the Centre, as per Article 74 of the Constitution. So in essence, the governor is chosen by the (Union) government of the day.

So, can they really even be expected to be “impartial” in such situations? Look at Governor Vajubhai Vala for example.
Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala.
Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala.
(Photo: IANS)
  • Lifelong member of the RSS.
  • Former Gujarat BJP chief.
  • Modi’s finance minister in Gujarat for a decade.
  • And the man who vacated his Assembly seat for Modi to become chief minister in 2001.

Now, in a situation where the law of the land gives him the discretion to choose which party or coalition to invite to form the government, do you really think he’s going to go against the BJP and choose Congress-JD(S) instead?

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Inherited (Deliberately) From the British Raj

So how did we end up with this system of governors in the first place? Well, it’s an import from the days of the British Raj.

But here’s the interesting bit. Almost immediately after winning several provincial elections in 1937, the Congress started protesting against this system of powerful governors sitting on top of democratically elected governments.

So you’d expect that if the Congress was protesting against governors having so much power, they would change that after India won independence, right?

Wrong. Freedom in 1947, and a spectacular U-turn by the Congress.

The post of the governor was retained, with its unusually excessive powers. Independent India was creating an office, specifically as a tool available for misuse by the central government.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)
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Opposition in the Constituent Assembly Debates

Opposition to this can be traced as far back as the Constituent Assembly debates.

A Constituent Assembly of India meeting in 1950.
A Constituent Assembly of India meeting in 1950.
(Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)
At the time, Biswanath Das, a member of the Constituent Assembly, had argued: “In the provinces you are going to have democracy from toe to neck and autocracy at the head.”

He warned that the governor was going to interfere in the political process. But Das lost the argument.

The result?

In Goa and Manipur, in 2017, the governor called the coalition and not the single-largest party to form the government. The same happens in Meghalaya in 2018. But in Karnataka, the governor does the exact opposite.

Why?

Because he can.

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Solutions in Sight?

So what’s the solution? Can we ever expect Parliament to put in place a legislation that dictates a Standard Operating Procedure in such situations?

Unlikely. And that’s despite the Sarkaria Commission in 1988 and the Punchhi Commission in 2010 specifically directing that the guidelines are needed for the discretionary power of governors.

So, where else can we look?

The Supreme Court – where else? In Karnataka, they reduced the time to hold the floor test. But given that this phrase “at the governor’s discretion” has been misused for 66 years running, isn’t it time for the SC to fix this too?

India’s last hope for the issue?
India’s last hope for the issue?
(Photo: Altered by The Quint)
Or will the final outcome of democratic elections continue to be determined by governors and their unquestioned discretion?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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