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By Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao

The Governor of Telangana met the Prime Minister and union Home Minister, and later addressed the media that (her) government is not bestowing due respect to her. She also mentioned protocol violations to her. The Governor further said that since she was not satisfied with the recommendation of the government to nominate Kaushik Reddy as MLC she kept the issue pending. The media also reported quoting the Governor that had she wanted, the government would have collapsed and everything would be decided by the people.

The Governor’s post and position, which is an important institution in the Indian cooperative federalism, has been subjected to criticism ever since it was created. Our country has the great reputation of dismissing the first-ever elected Communist government in the world in 1959 in Kerala headed by EMS Namboodiripad by Burgula Ramakrishna Rao as Governor, despite full majority. Subsequently, it happened many times both in Congress and non-Congress rule.

Executive Powers

The Chief Minister of a State is the democratically elected Chief Executive. The entire executive powers are under his control. The Governor according to the Constitution is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. A cursory look may appear that the powers and responsibilities of a Governor are more or less similar to that of the President. But, it is not exactly so. The framers of the Constitution visualised that the Governor use the powers and responsibilities entrusted to him/her through the Constitution, to keep the country united with the spirit of cooperative federalism.

However, a few of them, over a period, in connivance with the union government had abused these powers. In any State, the government that is in power is the government of the Governor and whatever the Governor requires in the State s/he may directly contact the Chief Minister and get it done. This is what happens at the Centre.

Comparing Powers

It may be of interest to compare the powers of the Governor at the State level and the President at the central. An academic discussion advocates that it is the President who is supreme and more powerful than the Prime Minister. Governors have no such enormous powers. If one fundamentally ponders over, before actually going into the niceties, the President is elected by the elected peoples’ representatives of the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures as well as the Rajya Sabha, whereas the Prime Minister is just the leader of the majority party in the Lok Sabha! Thus, certainly, the President is more representative in character. The Prime Minister, however, is the elected Chief Executive. In the case of Governor, it is a mere nominated institution whereas the Chief Minister is a democratically elected individual representing the people at large.

Constitutional pundits often quote the experience of Britain, the model which India adopted. But the fact is India did not in toto adopt the British model — it is partly parliamentary and partly presidential form. Despite this, the beauty of the Constitution is that so far during the last 75 years no President has ever misused or overstepped the powers, spoke against the elected government at the Centre which in fact is his or his own government, or expressed displeasure. The main reason for this is that the person who is elected as the President is an acceptable individual to the Prime Minister and the ruling party. This is not the case with Governors. Irrespective of the fact that whether the Governor is acceptable to the Chief Minister or not, the President appoints him/her on the advice of the Prime Minister. The individual so appointed as Governor would be one who belongs to the ruling party at the Centre, with exceptions.

The real “functionary” according to the Constitution is President and not the Prime Minister. Article 74 speaks about the “Council of Ministers to aid and advise President”. In the States, the role of the Governor is similar. The Governor has no option except to accept the advice of the Cabinet led by the Chief Minister. Every President till date took decisions only based on the advice of the Prime Minister. They seldom differed with the Prime Minister the way it happened in the case of Kaushik Reddy or in the case of Protem Chairman of Council in Telangana.

Constitution Says

The Constitution says that the Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. In India, an occasion for the real exercise of this power arose for the first time when Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was President who exercised his discretion and appointed GL Nanda as PM even before the Congress could indicate its choice following Jawaharlal Nehru’s death. Radhakrishnan again followed the same procedure and appointed GL Nanda when Lal Bahadur Shastri died. However, on both occasions, Nanda was a mere caretaker PM.

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, President Zail Singh, even before Rajiv Gandhi was elected as Congress Party Parliamentary leader, appointed him as PM. Consequent to the 1989 general elections, President R Venkataraman, while inviting VP Singh after the Congress refused to form a government and then after VP Singh’s resignation in inviting first Rajiv Gandhi and then Chandrashekhar, exercised his discretionary powers. However, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy’s decision in 1979 in the case of appointing Charan Singh drew criticism but it soon cooled down as there was no option.

This is ample proof that the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers hold office at the pleasure of the President. The President may also exercise his discretionary power, which is inherent in the Constitution, in dismissing a PM even if s/he enjoys a majority in the Lok Sabha. Had the Presidents also resorted to dismissals of governments at the Centre by invoking discretionary powers, the way a few Governors did in States, what would have happened to democracy in India is anybody’s guess.

None of the Presidents during the past 75 years of democratic history, including those elected during one party in power and continued later after a different party came to power like Neelam Sanjiva Reddy or Pranab Mukherji, were controversial in discharging their duties, and also worked closely and cordially with Prime Ministers. Why can’t the appointed Governors who are not as powerful as the President do the same? Probably, only constitutional experts will be able to ponder over this.

India is the only country among several countries that got independence from the British colonial rule where elections are regularly held and governments are changed at regular intervals, and has come to stay as the largest democratic nation in the world. Let us hope this continues. It is better if Governors follow in the footsteps of Presidents in maintaining cordial relations with the elected executive heads to uphold the democratic spirit of the country.

(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)


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Author: Howard Caldwell