Guv vs states tussle needs a political fix
Both sides must recognise that the friction is hurting governance and lowering their stature. Resolving this issue will need maturity, a display of sober statesmanship from both sides, and a recognition that India’s federal structure needs to be nurtured, not manipulated
Tussle between governors nominated by the Union government and state governments controlled by rival parties is one of the oldest stories of Indian politics. This conflict first intensified under successive Congress-ruled central governments, especially those under then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who used her power over Raj Bhavans and Article 356 of the Constitution to dislodge governments not to her liking, then ebbed somewhat in the coalition era when several parties had either a stake in the Union government or had the electoral heft to destabilise the administration, and is ratcheting up again — once more, under a strong central government. But, worryingly, even though the dispute has now reached the courts, judicial intervention may be unable to resolve what is essentially a political tangle.
Look at Punjab. Even as the state was being roiled by the rise of a radical Sikh leader who forced the police to buckle and release a man wanted in an abduction and murder case, the state government and Raj Bhavan were locked in a fractious battle. Last week, the Supreme Court (SC) rapped both sides and asked them to respect the constitutional remit, warning that the fight should not degenerate into a “race to the bottom”. It noted that both sides had failed to discharge their constitutional duties and stressed that constitutional functionaries must be cognisant of public trust, and ensure that the affairs of governance are conducted with maturity to accomplish the objectives of the Preamble. Yet, the relationship continues to be rocky.
Or, look at Telangana. The state government moved the SC on Thursday, seeking directions to governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to give her approval to 10 key bills passed by the legislature. The chief secretary said that the state government was forced to approach the top court due to the constitutional impasse created because of the governor’s refusal to act on several bills passed by the state legislature. The government argued that Raj Bhavan had no discretion to defer or delay assent because it undermined parliamentary democracy. This is a repeat of an identical controversy in Tamil Nadu, where the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam urged the President to dismiss governor RN Ravi because of his refusal to give assent to a clutch of key bills. Though the Constitution accords a key legislative function to the governor — Raj Bhavan may return a bill passed by the assembly, but if the legislature clears it again, the governor is bound to accept it — there is silence on the quantum of time that may be taken in this process. In a polarised political atmosphere, these gaps have been weaponised, as was once the practice decades ago.
Unfortunately, this hurts both sides, hobbles governance, and erodes the mandate of the assembly and the stature of the Raj Bhavan. Resolving this issue will need maturity, a display of sober statesmanship from both sides, and a recognition that India’s federal structure needs to be nurtured, not manipulated. In what is essentially a political phenomenon, a judicial response may act only as a partial, temporary fix. Any long-term solution will need to come from the political establishment.