Governor’s whims

Published October 22, 2022
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

RECENTLY, a group of Muslims, mostly ex-officials, called on a high-level Indian official to invite sympathy and extend support. One reward which is worked out for those of their ilk is the post of governor of a state; preferably one run by a political party opposed to the party which rules at the centre. For it appoints, transfers and dismisses governors. They enjoy a life of comfort and prestige; power without responsibility.

They are expected to perform duties of support to India on these issues (1) Kashmir, (2) foreign policy, (3) treatment of minorities, (4) Urdu, (5) Aligarh Muslim University and (6) discrimination against Muslims, etc. For all this and more, they will secure a reward, including a seat on a delegation to a foreign country or to the UN; ambassadorship, etc.

The Sarkari Commission on Centre-State Relations strongly recommended in 1987 that no governor should be appointed who belonged to the political party at the centre while the state to which he was appointed is run by a political party opposed to that party at the centre. This was violated by most political parties ruling at the centre, but by none as systematically and venomously as the Bharatiya Janata Party headed by Narendra Modi, which runs the Indian government.

One glaring instance was the appointment of Arif Mohammad Khan as governor of Kerala, which is run by a coalition headed by communists. He lost no time in destabilising the state government with a series of pinpricks.

The new-fangled ‘Arif Doctrine’ affects his master Modi.

He began as a student leader in the Aligarh Muslim University, close to Piloo Mody of the pro-business Swatantra Party; joined the Congress under Indira Gandhi and served as a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi and the V.P. Singh governments. His heart lies with the BJP. He was a member of the V.P. Singh government but never concealed his contempt for the man. Khan was an acolyte at one time of Arun Nehru, a rank communalist. Both were ministers in the V.P. Singh government. Thereafter, Arif Khan’s political journey was a study in sheer careerism from Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party to the anti-Muslim BJP.

Recently, we saw him again attack the state government, warning ministers not to make statements that went against his office saying it would invite drastic action, including relieving them of their post.

According to a tweet from the official Twitter handle: “The CM and Council of Ministers have every right to advise governor. But statements of individual ministers that lower the dignity of the office of the governor can invite action including withdrawal of pleasure.”

A statement by higher education minister R. Bindu, accusing the governor of implementing the RSS agenda, is said to have provoked the tweet. Bindu’s remarks came after acrimony over the selection of Kerala University’s vice chancellor; Khan had removed 15 senate members of the varsity in his capacity as chancellor; Opposition leader V.D. Satheesan said, “The governor is not beyond the constitution. He cannot withdraw ministers at his pleasure.”

This new-fangled ‘Arif Doctrine’ affects his master, Narendra Modi. Under India’s constitution, the governor would be a constitutional head of state just like the president of India and be governed by identical conventions of the parliamentary system. This was made amply clear by Dr B.R. Ambedkar in the constituent assembly in December 1948.

“Under a parliamentary system of government, there are only two prerogatives which the king or the head of the state may exercise. One is the appointment of the prime minister and the other is the dissolution of parliament. With regard to the prime minister, it is not possible to avoid vesting the discretion in the presid­ent. The only other way by which we cou­ld provide for the appointment of the prime minister without vesting the authority or the discretion in the president, is to require that it is the House which shall in the first instance choose its leader, and then on the choice being made by a motion of a resolution, the president should proceed to appoint the prime minister.”

It is reported that Mr Mohammed Tahir asked Dr Ambedkar “on a point of order, how will it explain the position of the governors and the ministers of the state where discretionary powers have been allowed to be used by the governors?”

In reply, Dr Ambedkar: “The position of the governor is exactly the same asthe position of the president and I think I need not over-elaborate that at the present moment because we will consider the whole position when we deal with the state legislatures and the governors.”

Mr Khan’s master in New Delhi should take note of his assertion; power as governor applies to the president of India as well vis-à-vis the prime minister and the cabinet. It is dangerous to have an ambitious chancellor of the universities like Arif Khan.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2022

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