A Supreme Court bench, comprising Mr. Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Mr. Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Mr. Justice B.N. Aggarwal, Mr. Justice Ashok Bhan and Mr. Justice Arijit Pasayat, pronounced, a landmark interim judgement on October 7,2005 about the unconstitutionality of the May 23, 2005 Presidential Proclamation leading to the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly.
The judgement marks yet another watershed in constitutional history of India in that the unabashed politically ulterior motives at the Centre and the States took precedence over constitutional propriety both at the Centre and the States in the Bihar case. The verdict of the apex court brings into sharp focus the Governor’s role in the politics’ hard- headed reality, totally removed from what the Constitution has provided.
Can a Governor of a State govern according to the rule book? That his survival depends on his playing a second fiddle to the whims of the party in power at the Centre is known to every incumbent in the Raj Bhavan. This is familiar with everyone accommodated in the gubernatorial post-be he a failed politician or a retired IAS officer, an IPS official or a retired Senior Army official.
That a Governor should act as a real constitutional head, as provided in the Constitution, is alluded to at the Governors’ Conferences held in Delhi periodically. This is just a sermon from the pulpit, but no Governor dares to heed and act on this sermon for he knows that he loses the job the moment he asserts his independence.
In the April 27, 2005 letter sent to the Centre by the Bihar Governor, Mr. Buta Singh, he indicated the possibility of government formation, saying “The JD (U) and BJP MLA. As are quite convinced that by the end of this month or the latest by the first week of May, 2005 the JD (U) will be in a position to form the government.” But “the high pressure moves of the JD (U) and BJP are also affecting the RJD MLAs. Who have become restive?
According to a report “there is a lot of pressure by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLAs on Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav to either form the government on the UPA pattern at the Centre, with the support of the Congress, the LJSP and others or at least ensure the continuance of President’s rule.”
Senior advocate Soli Sorabjee hit the nail on the head when he unfolded the sordid drama before the highest court in the country when he maintained that Mr. Buta Singh made no genuine attempt to explore the possibility of forming a government before recommending the dissolution of the House.
The “indecent haste” with which the Governor acted showed that he was hell-bent to torpedo any government led by janata Dal (United) leader Mr. Nitish Kumar as it did not fall in line with the ambitions of the RJD chief Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav. The Government couldn’t explain why on earth the matter was grave and urgent as to deserve a stamp of approval at the odd hours of midnight by the President of India who was then away in Moscow (Russia).
If such urgency was shown by the Government in matters concerned with the people, India would have been the first model states in the world it every respect. It shows that Governors are just puppets in the chain, what happened in Bihar show how parties in power could use Governors as stepping stones to their political ambitions.
Bihar is not only the case where a Governor acted the partisan way. Similar distortions were in public view in Ranchi and Panaji in recent times. The Vice-President, Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat recently pointed out that a Governor takes oath under Article 159 (1) to “preserve, protect i defend the Constitution and the law.”
At the Governors’ Conference this year, the Prime Minister suggested : the Governors “are extremely well placed to assess long-term trend in many matters and utilize the wisdom at their command to aid the Governments in their actions.”
It is high time that the Government initiated a debate on the appointment, role, functions and powers of Governors. Let us not allow the institution of Governor to become an object of ridicule and a “rehabilitation center” for “the politically unemployed”. The Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations on Centre-State relations and the proceedings of Governors’ conferences could be the subject matter of such debates.
Let there be a code of conduct arrived at on the basis of political consensus. None with political partisanship should be appointed as Governors. As the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution has recommended, Governors should be appointed after consultation with State Chief Ministers, and should be eminent persons in some walk of life and not those who have been in active politics and who have been jettisoned by the electorate. Secondly, the Governors should not be used as agents of the party in power to entrench the party in power in the State. Mind you, the party or combination of parties coming to power next time would resort to the same technique. Do you want to get it back in the same coin? Thirdly, there should be a provision for the recall of the Governor just as the provision provided in the American Constitution, though the American Governor is elected through ballot.
Bihar is going to the polls for the second time in a year. And what a waste of money once again, with pollsters again predicting a fractured verdict. The Centre okayed and endorsed the Governor’s reports and claimed that President’s rule was recommended because of the fear of horse-trading. Is horse-trading new? Hasn’t horse-trading was resorted to both at the Centre and the States? Will there not be horse trading again in Bihar?
“Politics is the last resort of the scoundrel”, but the eminent journalist Mr. T.J.S. George modified the quote in the more caustic fashion: “Politics is the first refuge of the scoundrel.” At the recent elections to the local bodies in Kerala, one saw unacceptable marriages of conveniences, Principles are thrown to the wind when people become blind on the pursuit of power at any price.
Can you ever imagine Congress allying with BJP on the sly and the Muslim League in league with BJP? When you are obsessed with power, you will cohabit even with the devil. A Governor will be a Governor in the true sense and within the ambit of the constitutional interpretation only when the political parties agree on a common code of conduct that they would allow the Governor to function independently without fear or favour. If such a convention is not created immediately, India should be satisfied with one Buta Singh after another.