February 16, 2020
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Crooked Pillars Of Democracy

Crooked Pillars Of Democracy

THE ignominious exit of Sheila Kaul, Motilal Vora and P. Shiv Shankar within a space of 10 days has once again put the spotlight on the institution of the Governor. The three worthies were the representatives of the President in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. And they all had to step down unceremoniously after the Central Bureau of Investigation found prima facie evidence of their involvement in the housing and the hawala scams, a development which could not possibly have brought glory either to their own offices or to that of the President.

But this is not the first time that the constitutional office of the Governor has been sullied by politicos. And unless the political establishment shows the necessary will and brings about systemic changes, the sorry saga of corrupt politicians appointed to the august office will continue. The question is: will our political class rise to the occasion, and ensure that yet another institution of Indian democracy does not get completely devalued?

What is particularly disturbing is that even when a remedy to the solution was suggested, it was ignored. A way out of the steady deterioration in the value attached to the Governor's office was shown more than a decade ago by Justice R.S. Sarkaria in his report on Centre-state relations. Sarkaria, who had been asked by the Indira Gandhi government to go into the entire gamut of Centre-state relations, had strongly recommended against appointing politicians as governors. While recommending that only people who have gained some eminence be appointed as governors, Sarkaria had said: "He should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past".

Sarkaria's concern, of course, was primarily related to the repeated flashpoints which occur between the Centre and the state because of the partisan role of the political governors, but his remedy for the malaise could have also taken care of the problem we now have in hand: that of the past sins of the politicos visiting the governors in their majestic Raj Bhavans and thereby tarnishing the very image of the institution?

All the three governors who made their inglorious exits from the Raj Bhavans in Shimla, Thiruvananthapuram and Lucknow, were active politicians when they were appointed. In fact, the bulk of the people who adorn the high office in various states are politicos who the ruling party at the Centre either wanted to discard, or reward for services rendered. If the Governors have their origins in the cesspool that politics in this country has been reduced to, how can we expect them to be either clean or impartial, qualities which should be ideally associated with the non-partisan office.

The tragedy is that in the over a decade which has passed since the Sarkaria Commission report was submitted, no government, whether of the Congress or the Janata hue had bothered to pay heed to this aspect. While the Rajiv Gandhi government totally ignored the recommendations during 1984-89, the National Front, which had professed it would restore true federalism if it assumed power acted no differently. First, it requested President R. Venkataraman to ask all the Governors appointed by the previous regime to submit their resignations. And then two weeks later when it appointed 13 new Governors, as many as seven were active politicians culled from the various constituents of the Front and from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which was providing outside support to the government. A number of these were actually people who had contested and lost the recently held elections.

P.V. Narasimha Rao too continued the practice of appointing politicians as Governors, and went on to even use the Governors in his own private wars within the party. It was with a sense of revulsion that the nation watched the Prime Minister allow Himachal Pradesh Governor Sudhakarrao Naik take potshots at the Congress strongman in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar. Later, Naik resigned his governorship after it was made clear to him that he would be provided with a more clear role in the party's affairs in the western state. He is now one of the contestants for the Lok Sabha from Washim and is also engaged in an ongoing battle of attrition with Pawar.

Contrast this with the recommendation which Sarkaria had made after going through scores of representations from various political parties and states, as well as from other eminent people. Besides his warning against appointing people who were active politicians, the good judge had gone on to say: "As a matter of convention, the Governor should not, on remitting his office, be eligible for any other appointment or office of profit under the union or state government except for a second term as Governor or election as Vice-President or President of India. Such a convention should also require that after quitting or laying down his office, the Governor shall not return to active partisan politics."

Sarkaria was convinced that only such strict stipulations and conventions could ensure that the Governor's office would become credible and that the incumbent would be able to perform the impartial, non-partisan role required in the constitutional link between the Central government and the state government.

But then, these are not the reforms our rulers are interested in. The only kind of reforms that the political establishment seems really concerned with, are the ones which can either help them get block votes in elections, or in economic restructuring which is dictated by the World Bank and which can simultaneously help the ruling classes make quick money. Institutions are too abstract for our pragmatic politicians, and therefore institutions be damned. 

Too many of our democratic institutions have suffered an erosion of credibility in the last two to three decades and too little effort has gone into applying the systemic correctives which are required for them to retain their dignity and credibility. The need of the hour is for a regime which will sincerely apply its mind to the issue, initiate non-partisan debate, and come through with long-term solutions. If enough thought is not given to the problem and without further delay, we could be in real danger of all the pillars of our still fledgling democracy crumbling as the people lose faith in these vital institutions. And that could be the beginning of the end for the world's largest democracy.

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