Role of Governor in Indian Polity

by Abhimanyu Joon

India is designated as the ‘Union’ of States by its constitution, so the 28 States and 9 Union Territories are exclaimed to be ‘inseparable’ part of the nation. Moreover, the constitution is federal in nature with strong unitary features. The provisions of Central and State governments, and bicameralism highlight federal form while single citizenship and a single constitution, integrated judiciary, and appointment of Governor in States determine its unitary spirit.When the need to maintain the position of Governor was debated in the Constituent Assembly, citing its linkage to the colonial past and the suppressive intent behind its creation, the apprehension about the post was quenched by the members of the Drafting Committee, explaining the necessity of a mechanism to ascertain smooth functioning of the States and Union Territories in accordance with the directives of the Centre. Thereby ensuring unity of the nation, which is the prime objective of the constitution.In view of this, it is necessary to mention that role of a Governor is to strike a balance between the State governments’ functioning and the constitutional monitoring of the Centre upon the States. Thus the position of Governor binds the States with the Centre, acting as a final link to make the country a single functioning unit. Contrary to the myth that Governor is a Central government employee, the Governorship is an ‘independent’ constitutional office not subject to the control of the Centre.The idea mooted by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in support of the continuation of governorship was to draw distinguished individuals from academics and other fields into politics, for seeking their contribution in nation building. It was considered that the position would be held by distinguished statesmen who would discharge their duties with dignity and pervading moral influence. In order to ensure the neutrality of the post measures such as appointment in a state other than the home state, security of tenure and emoluments as well as possible judicial immunity, while holding the office have been implemented. Also, a provision was made for not questioning the decision of the Governor made on a discretionary basis. It was reasoned that such measures would assure that Governor will fulfill its responsibility of acting as a buffer between the Centre and the State in critical situations like the selection of a State’s Chief Minister in absence of a clear majority in the State election or deciding the course of action when the State government fails to prove its majority in the legislative assembly. As a check to prevent misuse of the position, it was declared that Governor could be removed by the President, if the acts committed by the office holder are proven malafide and unconstitutional by the courts, resulting in prosecution after a vacation from the post.Owing to the lack of clarity regarding the Governor’s portfolio a general sentiment has developed describing Governorship as ‘plush’ old age home wherein the Governor doesn’t stay impartial and often acts against popular State leaders. Such an opinion makes the citizens believe that the democratic realm of the country is fragile, which can be easily shaken by the Governor. In reality, Governor is an appointee who has a dual role to play. One is the ‘constitutional’ head of the State who is responsible for building the image of the State at the Centre and focusing on the needs of the State along the means to fulfill them. It is in this position that Governor appoints Chief Minister and his council, and also takes care of the welfare of Scheduled Tribes and people of backward classes that remain beyond the outreach of the State’s administrative machinery. The second role is to act as the ‘representative’ of the Centre in the State, under which the Governor ensures the maintenance of federal balance and political stability within the State. In this position, the Governor submits a report to the President about the State’s functioning. It is in this report the President decides to take over the governance of the State as per Article 356 of the constitution, if he thinks that a grave situation is brewing which is likely to threaten peace and tranquility in State. Accordingly, the Governor dismisses the State’s ministry acting on the direction of the President. Moreover, to prevent the State’s machinery to come at a standstill, affecting the legislative function, the Governor is empowered to promulgate ordinances when the State legislature is not in session, so as to implement bills that are beneficial for the State. Such ordinances expire after 6 weeks of reassembly by the State legislature. These provisions enable Governor to play a constructive role in State’s administration.Provisions like Article 356 act as an effective tool to prevail over the ‘ill’ will of any regional leader, who is bent upon derailing the constitutional mechanism of the State. For instance, any bill passed by the State legislature needs Governor’s ascent to become law. As per convention, Governor cannot reject such a bill. But if it threatens the independence of the judiciary or is in violation of Directive Principles of State then Governor reserves such bill for Presidential assent. Until approved by President the bill cannot become law, thus safeguarding the larger interest.It is worth mentioning that from 1950-1967 when the country had a single-party rule at the Centre as well as in States, the Governors were literally inactive. Eminent personalities like Sarojini Nadiu and Dr. Pattabhai Sitaramaya had commented that the office of the Governor would lose its relevance until it performs certain functions. It is only post-1967 that Governors’ office became highly active when Central and State governments were formed by different political parties, which often locked horns with each other.  Several State governments were removed making effective use of the expression of Article 164, which mentions that the Chief Minister and his council hold office at the pleasure of the Governor. It also came to light that few Governors were coerced to submit stern reports, inviting President’s rule in the States. Notable examples in this regard are of 1984 when Governors of Andhra Pradesh and J&K dismissed respectively elected Chief Ministers making ill use of constitutional Articles 163(2) and 164(1). From 1967-1981, 256 ordinances were promulgated by Bihar’s Governor, many of them kept alive through re-promulgation for 1-14 years causing the Supreme Court to mention that such an act was ‘fraud’ with the constitution.It now boils down to the fact that the decision taken by the Governor depends on his personality. A politically neutral person having strong character will not bow down to any kind of pressure leading to harmful decisions. While a passive person will get influenced without much difficulty. As per the constitution, the holder of Governor’s office should not be associated with either house of Parliament or State legislature, maintaining the impartial nature of the appointee. But it is observed that the basic intent of Governor’s office seems to be defeated. Since most of the recent appointees are politicians who surrendered their position only hours before they were reappointed as States’ Governors.It will be incorrect to mention that Governor’s office is a burden on Indian political system because apart from acting as a vital bond between the Centre and States, the Governor ensures ‘financial’ stability in the State by making advances out of State’s ‘Contingency’ fund for meetings unforeseen expenditure. The Governor also makes sure that State budget is laid before the legislature for reviewing the financial position of the local governing bodies. The magnitude of the Governor’s involvement in the State’s affairs is determined by the existing political situation. A high level of political harmony in the State limits the role of the Governor while political instability enlarges the extent of the Governor’s influence.The misuse of the Governor’s powers can be checked by involving a judiciary member such as the Chief Justice of India or a senior Supreme Court judge nominated by the Chief Justice in addition to the President and the Prime Minister while appointing the Governor of a State, so as to prevent any politically connected individual getting selected for the post. Likewise, there could be a limit set on the number of ordinances that can be promulgated by the Governor during his tenure. For a country like India having a partially flexible, largely federal constitution and is infested with deep-rooted politically motivated interest, the requirement of an inert profile in the governance of the nation will always arise. Hence until there is a drastic change in the constitutional setup, the role of Governor will remain important.”

About the Author: 

Abhimanyu Joon has been writing articles for the past several years and his written content has been featured in popular magazines and news portals like The Outlook, Swaraj India, Fauji India, The Leaflet, Navjeevan Express.

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