Governorship Conundrum in Contemporary India: A Call for Constitutional Reforms

    • By,
      Shubham Arya – Academic Associate, Kautilya

In the vibrant collage of Indian democracy, the role of the Governor holds a pivotal position, acting as the constitutional head of a state. However, recent events have cast a spotlight on the office of the Governor, unravelling a conundrum that has sparked debates and discussions across the nation for decades.

In the past few months, the office of the Governor in India has become a focal point for political intrigue, legal debates, and public scrutiny. The unfolding drama has its roots in the complex interplay between the constitutional provisions defining the Governor’s powers, the principles of federalism, and the evolving dynamics of Indian politics.

Current Scenario: The Governor in the Political Spotlight

At the forefront of this fiasco is the plea filed by the state governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab separately against the inaction of the Governor in giving assent to the bills passed by the state legislatures of respective states, thus violating Article 200 of the Indian Constitution. According to Article 200, the Governor possesses the authority to either grant assent to a bill, withhold assent, or forward the bill to the President of India for consideration. No mention of any prescribed time limit for performing the above mentioned tasks has allowed the governors to make their presence felt by halting the legislature functioning in the states. Making a sharp observation, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has asked the governors of all the above states to decide on the pending bills as soon as possible.

Historical Context: Lessons from Constituent Assembly Debates

Since Independence, the means of conflict between the States and Governors have changed. Still, the underlying fact in all these events has remained the same- A strong and populist central government trying to establish its supremacy and destabilise the opposition-ruled government. Right from Indira Gandhi’s attempt to overthrow the state governments acting against the centre’s interest to recent developments in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, the idea envisaged in the constituent assembly of having a constitutional head in the states for ensuring stability in the states during a period of crisis was challenged and compromised.

During British rule, governors played a crucial role in administration, and the current form of governorship in the Indian Constitution drew inspiration from the Government of India Act 1935. Debating the powers of a governor, Dr Ambedkar, in the constituent assembly, deemed the post “ornamental” with “limited” and “nominated” powers. The governor was considered to work on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, having limited discretionary powers in case of a constitutional breakdown of state machinery. Thus, on the question of election, Ambedkar further stated that it makes no sense to put money and resources in the post, which is nominal and has limited functions. Jawaharlal Nehru also argued favouring a “nominated governor” because an elected governor would foster separatist province inclinations. He advocated that the Governor, if elected, be a “detached figure” who can rise above party politics.

Biswanath Das, a member from Orissa and future Governor of Uttar Pradesh, underlined his concerns regarding the nomination process, which are still very relevant, by noting how a Governor appointed by the President and the Central Government would work with an elected State Government. He was very sceptical of giving so much power to the hands of the central government as he apprehended that there might come a government that could misuse it. Thus, he pushed for the abolishment of the office altogether.

The constituent assembly rejected the question of abolishing the office altogether on the belief of a strong union presence in the provinces because of frequent disturbing events happening across the provinces. Simultaneously, it was envisaged to have non-political persons at the helm of the post who would act in the province’s best interest.

Charting a Path Forward: Proposals for Constitutional Reforms

The contemporary relevance of issues discussed in 1947 underscores the urgent need for reforms related to the office of the Governor. The structure of the Indian Union and the importance attached to the office of the Governor in some issues make it impossible to abolish the office entirely. However, the frequent logjam between the state government and the governor, mostly in opposition-ruled states, indicates the governor’s involvement in a political vendetta or opportunism at the behest of the central government and calls for a structural change in the appointment and working of the governor.

The possibility of directly electing a governor might run into a clash between two elected personalities at the state level for supremacy. It might fuel the fire it intended to blow off. The recommendations of the Punchhi Commission(2007) are an excellent guide to traverse the path of constitutional reforms. Fixing the accountability of the Governor, much like the President, should be the starting point. The state legislatures should be allowed to initiate impeachment proceedings against the governor. Regarding the Governor’s appointment, the proposal to form a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, and the concerned Chief Minister holds promise. This would challenge the hegemony of the ruling party at the Centre, ensuring a more inclusive decision-making process.

Implementing these reforms requires strong political will to relinquish arbitrary powers held by the central government. In the current era of propagated cooperative federalism, there is a timely opportunity to translate rhetoric into action and bring about meaningful changes to fortify the role of Governors in the Indian democratic framework.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.