The Punchhi Commission in 2010 agreed with the 1988 Sarkaria Commission that governors be appointed from among eminent people in different walks of life and that they should not be from the state they are posted in.
Ex-cops in Raj Bhavans
Ex-Babus in Raj Bhavans
Any Indian citizen above the age of 35, according to the Constitution, can be appointed a governor by the President (which is to say, the central government). By that token, half the country’s population would be eligible for gubernatorial posts—this is the primary thesis of a PIL that seeks more specific guidelines for nominating occupants to the sprawling Raj Bhavans dotting our state capitals. As of now, the appointments are purely arbitrary, with no norms governing them except the narrowest expediency. Even so, there is a changing pattern. Once it used to be a sinecure for ageing politicians who needed to be put to pasture in an honourable manner. But eight of our current governors happen to be retired police officers (see list).
The naming of Ashwani Kumar, former CBI director, as Nagaland governor last week prompted sharp public criticism. A “tone-deaf” decision, said an admonitory editorial in The Indian Express, referring to the government ignoring recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission that governors be neutral and apolitical. Former CAG (and ex-Karnataka governor) T.N. Chaturvedi is a part-sceptic: “I see nothing wrong in appointing good police officers as governors. But IB, NSG and CBI officials do tend to develop personal affiliations and could become deferential, if not pawns.” They also tend to have an overly ‘security/surveillance’ approach.
Kumar, an ex-DGP from Himachal Pradesh, is not, however, the first CBI director to be installed in a Raj Bhavan. The United Front government named retired CBI director A.P. Mukherjee as Mizoram governor in 1998. But this was nine years after Mukherjee had retired. The NDA government named retired RAW chief Arvind Dave, retired DIB Shyamal Dutta and retired IPS officers Ved Marwah and D.N. Sahay as governors. It also appointed retired CBI director P.C. Sharma as member, National Human Rights Commission. Indeed, the NDA regime (1999-2004) put seven retired IPS officers in different Raj Bhavans. The UPA has made that eight.
Former Intelligence Bureau director Shyamal Dutta, appointed governor by the NDA government, says he is aware of a few cases of retired officers lobbying for gubernatorial posts. But none of the retired IPS officers who occupied Raj Bhavans, he insists, was a doormat. “As the eyes and ears of the President, a link with the Centre and as a friend, philosopher and guide to the state government, the governor can contribute a lot, if he so desires,” he told Outlook.
Governors often get criticised and condemned for realising the second part of that a little too enthusiastically. P. Venkatasubbaiah (Karnataka), Romesh Bhandari (UP) and Buta Singh (Bihar) had to resign following strictures by the Supreme Court for doing New Delhi’s bidding. One governor, Bhanu Pratap Singh, had to be dismissed. From the present crop, H.R. Bhardwaj (Karnataka), M.K. Narayanan (West Bengal) and E.S.L. Narasimhan (Andhra Pradesh) are deemed partisan by even Congressmen, not to mention the BJP, the Trinamool and pro-Telangana parties respectively.
Marwah, also a retired IPS, claims that though appointed by the NDA government, he had a running battle with the BJP chief minister in Jharkhand. He, however, agrees that a cooling-off period is necessary before appointing retired officials as governors, if only to dispel misgivings of a quid pro quo. Chaturvedi also says that some of his decisions may actually have hurt the ruling dispensation in New Delhi, which appointed him.
The ex-files A.P. Singh, Ashwani Kumar
Chaturvedi, as a counter, points out that even CMs and ministers are “regrettably” known to have made appointments on payment. But governors, being outsiders, can play an effective role in maintaining the quality of higher education and acting as a buffer between institutions and politics, he admits.
Konwar also earned the dubious distinction of being possibly the only governor so far to be indicted by the high court for tampering with official files and creating minutes of a meeting which had allegedly never taken place on the margins of a file in his own writing.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) duly demanded his recall, which was acceded to, but party MPs were shocked when, instead of being dropped, Konwar was rehabilitated in the Agartala Raj Bhavan. Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi and many of his cabinet colleagues, in an unprecedented move, demanded a CBI inquiry into the allegations against the outgoing governor.
The actions of other incumbents too haven’t always been in keeping with the grace and dignity of the office. Increasingly, governors are seen either lobbying in New Delhi or visiting their home states. Politicians appointed as governors in the Northeast are often successful in engineering a transfer (the present governor of Gujarat, Kamala Beniwal, lasted just 40 days in Tripura) to more congenial and comfortable states. At least two serving governors, Ram Naresh Yadav (MP) and Aziz Qureshi (Uttarakhand), publicly declared their gratitude to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for their appointment. Bhardwaj, of course, went to the extent of saying he was a Congressman first—scoring marks only for being artless. The rationale of installing industrialists (Viren Shah, by the NDA) and educational entrepreneurs (D.Y. Patil, UPA) in Raj Bhavans too is not very clear.
In short, there is no dearth of reasons why this hoary, musty institution can’t do with an honest reappraisal. For a starting point, we always have the Sarkaria Commission report (of 1988) and the Punchhi Commission report (2010).
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