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Editorial: Gubernatorial ‘dis’appointments

“A leader who doesn’t take a decision: who will accept him as a leader?” Modi is quoted as saying. “…if you want to grow, you must invite criticism. And I want to grow, I want to invite criticism.”

Editorial: Gubernatorial ‘dis’appointments
Narendra Modi

It’s no secret that brazenness marks everything the BJP-led Union government does, whether it is letting loose watchdog agencies upon chosen targets or appointing its partisans to governor posts in the States.

It is likely the Kautilyan coterie at the Centre sees brazenness as a necessary quality in its decisions, a sign of leadership, or at the very least, political chutzpah. Evidence of such tendencies shine through in an interview, a rare one indeed, that Narendra Modi gave in 2013, a year before he became PM.

“A leader who doesn’t take a decision: who will accept him as a leader?” Modi is quoted as saying. “…if you want to grow, you must invite criticism. And I want to grow, I want to invite criticism.”

Now that the government has played yet another game of ducks and drakes with gubernatorial appointments, no amount of constitutional tut-tutting is going to embarrass it. Yes, some of the appointees are drawn from an endless supply of second-rung leaders eager to do the high command’s bidding.

Yes, none of the appointments is informed by the exalted need to infuse harmony into Centre-State relations. Given the precedents set by governors in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, what is par for the course has been turned on its head, no apologies need to be sought and none will be granted.

The appointment of former Supreme Court judge S Abdul Nazeer as governor of Andhra Pradesh typifies this principle of brazenness. It’s a thumbing of the nose to several principles of propriety at once.

It comes barely five weeks after the judge’s retirement. He is the third judge from the five-judge bench that delivered the verdict of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, to receive a post-retirement sinecure. Also, his appointment comes even as the judiciary is resisting the Union Government’s bid to muscle in on the whole process of judicial appointments.

Until the NDA government came to power in 2014, the governor’s post was seen as a cushy job given to a person of former eminence, a post of pomp and ceremony to enjoy in the evening of one’s public life. But to the new BJP, the governor’s post is an active instrument, especially in States where it is not strong enough to bid for power. The BJP is a party perpetually looking for space to grow into, a lebensraum to have a long lease on power at the Centre. This it can achieve only if it can carve out bridgeheads in states that conventionally do not have the kind of polarities it likes to exploit.

Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh are States that sway to drumbeats other than Hindutva. It is in these States that the BJP finds itself unable to wrest the agenda. It is there that the cadres need help. Having few elected reps in these States, the party feels the need for a governor who can do what the party cannot.

Although the governor is appointed upon the advice of the Union Council of Ministers, he is constitutionally bound to act upon the advice of the Chief Minister of the State.

However, some crucial powers are vested in the post: asking for a review of executive decisions; withholding assent to a Bill passed by the State legislature; examining crucial appointments made by the State government; determining how much time to give to a party to prove its majority in the Assembly; or, which party to invite to form a government. These powers come in handy at crucial times, such as when electors deliver a hung verdict. This being a year of elections in nine states, the importance of having the ‘right incumbent’ in Raj Bhavan cannot be overestimated in the eyes of the BJP high command.

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