The Supreme Court (SC)’s observations on Monday on the role of the office of the governor are wise and timely. Hearing a complaint by the Punjab government against the state governor, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that governors should remember that they are not elected representatives and have limited power over the legislative actions of the elected government. The judges also expressed anguish over governors refusing to act on government decisions until the SC intervened. The Constitution has defined the role of governors in the federal scheme, including their discretionary powers. In recent times, however, governors, especially in states with governments led by parties opposed to the BJP, seem to be invoking their discretionary powers with worrying frequency leading to confrontation with the elected governments. In the last few months, the governments of Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, besides Punjab, have been in the SC seeking directives from their respective governors. This situation, of the SC having to arbitrate between the government and the governor, is embarrassing and shows the institutions concerned in a poor light.
In the past too, governors have been accused of actions ranging from plain overreach of powers to acting as handmaidens of the Centre and against the state government. The first act of a governor acting allegedly at the behest of the party in office at the Centre came in 1959 when the Nehru Cabinet recommended the dismissal of the Kerala government despite the latter enjoying a legislative majority. In the Indira Gandhi years, the Centre became notorious for misusing the governor’s office and targeting elected governments. Non-Congress governments in Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh experienced the worst of such actions in the 1980s. The Courts have in multiple cases clarified the limits to the powers of the governor. Regional groups such as the DMK and the Communist parties, having been at the receiving end of the unholy governor-Centre nexus, prefer that the office be abolished.
Since 2014, many Raj Bhavans have been accused of trying to emerge as parallel power centres, invoking memories of the Indira years. The actions of governors in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Manipur, Goa, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and so on, have faced censure in courts. Governors refusing to clear bills passed in the legislature and questioning policies of the elected governments ill behoves the high office. The SC’s words of wisdom will, hopefully, prompt a course correction.
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