Herald View: With Raj Bhavans becoming RSS outposts manned by hyper active governors, review their role

Punchhi Commission’s recommendations on Centre-state relations and the role and functioning of Governors need to be addressed urgently. Do we even need Governors now?

Herald View: With Raj Bhavans becoming RSS outposts manned by hyper active governors, review their role

Herald View

Any lingering doubt that role and power of governors need an urgent review has been dispelled by the controversial conduct of the occupants of Raj Bhavans in West Bengal and Kerala. The West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar insisted last week that recommendation signed by the state’s chief minister for convening the assembly from March 7 was unconstitutional. The advice should have reached him through a resolution of the cabinet. One presumes the Governor is right as he has held the office since 2019 and must have received similar advice in the prescribed format all these years. It also raises questions about the functioning of the state government and the chief minister’s office, which could not have been ignorant of the format followed. But while the lapse might not reflect well on the state’s bureaucracy or political leadership, the Governor’s own conduct left eyebrows raised. He had the option of returning the file quietly followed by a telephonic conversation from the Raj Bhavan with the state’s chief secretary. But the Governor failed to resist the temptation of highlighting the CMO’s alleged ineptitude and play to the gallery. He took to social media to point out the lapse and demanded that the state government correct it. His questionable use of social media to interact with the state government, his incorrigible urge to share privileged information with the public and his public laments over constitutional breakdown in the state are no longer funny and deserves a more serious and elaborate assessment. His conduct, as also the conduct of other incumbents of Raj Bhavans, has revived doubts whether Governors are relevant or necessary any longer to uphold the Constitution and for hand holding.

In Kerala, Governor Arif Mohammad Khan also threw what people saw as tantrums and refused to sign the address sent for his approval until a senior IAS officer was punished. He had felt humiliated by the tone and tenor of a letter signed by the officer and wanted him transferred immediately as punishment. The state government obliged. The officer had reminded the Raj Bhavan that people with political links were normally not appointed as staff in the Raj Bhavan. The letter was in response to the Governor’s insistence on appointing a former BJP executive committee member as another private assistant. The government again obliged but with the ‘gentle’ note of dissent. The Governor did approve the address finally but with the rider that the state government should assure that lifetime pension to personal staff of ministers, a practice followed in the state for long, would be stopped. The Raj Bhavan called it a ‘loot’ of public money and felt that party workers should not be paid by the State.

Although his moral indignation and concern might be justified, it was certainly rich coming from a Raj Bhavan which had just insisted on making a political appointment. Raj Bhavans have seen appointment of RSS cadre in the past several years and one is not sure what he is objecting to. What is certain is that other Raj Bhavans will soon follow the example of Kerala, if they have not done so already. There was a time when Governors kept away from controversies and political discourse; when they were dignified and discreet in their reports to the Centre and in their advice to state governments. But with Raj Bhavans increasingly doubling up as the local RSS office, there is an urgent need to revisit recommendations made by the Punchhi Commission on Centre-state relations and specifically on the role of Governors.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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