Arunachal Pradesh Governor JP Rajkhowa will figure no less prominently than his predecessors who adorn the “hall of infamy and notoriety” in subverting the Constitution by holding on to their gubernatorial assignments.
There is enough evidence to prove that Rajkhowa has acted exactly contrary to the oath he took, of “protecting and defending the Constitution”. That his task was made easier by the Congress does not mitigate his indiscretion. In fact, Rajkhowa’s conduct raises a fundamental question about the relevance of retaining governors in the states, and allowing them to act as cat’s paw to destabilise unfriendly political governments. Governors are meant to act as a representative of the Indian Union in order to guard and protect the Constitution.
But one look at the history of gubernatorial conduct would repudiate the high-sounding constitutional obligations to which this post is supposed to be beholden. Raj Bhavans turning into a palace of political intrigues is an unending story. Take for instance the running feud between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant-Governor Najib Jung.
Their skirmishing has belittled the constitutional posts they hold.
In fact the use of the governor as a political agent of the Centre began in 1959 when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sacked the communist regime in Kerala, swayed by his daughter Indira Gandhi. Indeed it was his daughter who then institutionalised and legitimised this constitutional arrangement by installing governors as puppets of the Centre. During Rajiv Gandhi’s regime, the post of the governor further degenerated into one subservient to the Union home ministry.
In reality, the state governors functioned like joint secretaries of the Union home ministry.
Take for instance the role of Siddharth Shankar Ray, M Chenna Reddy, Motilal Vohra, Romesh Bhandari, Sundersingh Bhandari, Madanlal Khurana and Buta Singh in their gubernatorial assignments. Most of them have contributed, eminently, to the decline of the prestige and sanctity attached to the post. But that is one part of the story.
Of late, there are numerous stories of the governor’s house degenerating into a hub of corruption.
Former cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar who took up charge as Jharkhand’s governor was found to be prima-facie guilty of indiscretion in keeping liaison with a dubious Noida-based industrialist. Motilal Vora had to reign as UP governor as his name figured in the list of recipients of hawala money in 1996. At the age of 86, three-time UP chief minister ND Tiwari was caught on camera in flagrante delicto in the company of women.
That led to his ignominious exit.
There are several salacious stories that the Raj Bhavans of various state capitals generate.
The relevance of the governor’s post has been debated many times in the past. The BJP, while in Opposition, was insistent that the issue be reviewed threadbare, and indeed, if the post of a governor is at all relevant. The history of the governors’ conduct bears it out that they have more often than not subverted the spirit of the Constitution than protected it. In an era of Narendra Modi’s cooperative federalism, where the Centre has been ceding financial autonomy to the states, Rajkhowa’s conduct will once again prove that “the more things change, the more they remain the same”.
The toppling of the Arunachal Pradesh government through the institution of governors will once again exert unbearable strain on the federal character of the Constitution.
But there is hardly anything to suggest that history will not repeat itself.