Last Saturday, the Congress-led UPA government once again proved that it will play politics with the institution of Governor.
A key element in its current political strategy is to drive a wedge between Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(U) and the BJP in Bihar. The Congress High Command is thus in a mood to appear Bihar-friendly, and the previous Governor Debananda Konwar was a thorn in Nitish Kumar’s side. He had to go in order to placate Kumar, and thus swapped places with Tripura Governor DY Patil.
To be sure, this is what the Centre should always be doing: appointing governors who are in tune with the elected governments rather than place people who will make life difficult for them. But it has been an unstated objective of Congress policy to place only pro-Congress Governors in opposition-ruled states.
Apart from former party loyalists, the Congress also uses former intelligence or police officers as Governors – all of them political appointments in the first place – to ensure that it controls Raj Bhawans both directly, and through the indirect system of patronage it has put in place over the 53-and-odd years it has ruled Delhi.
This is evident from another decision to appoint former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Ashwani Kumar as Governor of Nagaland.
The point is obvious: since intelligence, security and police officers are almost always close to the political party in power, they make for even more loyal Governors. By promising them governorships after retirement, the nexus becomes even stronger.
While all governments may have used gubernatorial appointments for political purposes, the Congress’ use of former cops or spies as Governors stands out for consistent misuse. It shows that the post is not at all supposed to be politically neutral.
As The Indian Express notes in an editorial today: “The number of former intelligence officers who have been ensconced in various Raj Bhavans in the UPA's tenure is striking - from MK Narayanan in West Bengal to BV Wanchoo in Goa, BL Joshi in Uttar Pradesh to ESL Narasimhan in Andhra Pradesh. It is not clear what makes this particular background particularly suited to holding up the constitutional duties required of a governor. While all governments have used these appointments in an instrumental way, the Congress is particularly to blame for its blatant use of the office, sometimes as reward for services rendered, sometimes to give its own leaders an honourable exit from the political fray.”
So, the fact that the office of Governor is used politically is well established and widely believed, but the case of Bihar is particularly instructive.
As long as Nitish Kumar was firmly in the NDA camp, the Centre turned a blind eye when Konwar made life difficult for Kumar. Among other things, Konwar has been trying to assert himself in the appointment of vice-chancellors of universities in Bihar and has been holding up legislation that will curtail his powers. He has appointed some vice-chancellors on his own, without seeking the state government’s own preferences – almost exactly in the way Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal appointed a Lokayukta in the state without the state government’s concurrence.
The Express reports that the Bihar government retaliated by seeking to curtail the Governor’s powers in appointing vice-chancellors, but the Governor had been delaying the bills passed by the assembly. Among them: the Bihar State University (Amendment) Bill, 2010, for giving the Governor less say in the appointment of VCs; the Patna University (Amendment) Bill, 2010, for giving the government a greater say in appointing VCs; the Bihar State University Service Commission Bill, 2011; and the Bihar University Tribunal Bill, 2011, which wants to set up a tribunal to reduce the number of university disputes that clog up the courts.
Now, Konwar’s replacement, DY Patil, will presumably be more cooperative on these bills.
Earlier, to cosy up to Kumar, the Union budget talked about reviewing the criteria for giving grants to states like Bihar, and months before that, the Centre agreed to set up a central university in Motihari, when it was previously firm on Nalanda – which Nitish Kumar opposed. More recently, the PMO has been tweeting about Bihar's growth rate, and Nitish Kumar is preeening.
The incontrovertible point is this: Governors are handmaidens of the Centre. You get the governor of your choice only if you toe the centre’s line.