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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 3, New Delhi, January 2, 2021

Governorship Is Boring - Power Matters | TJS George

Saturday 2 January 2021, by T J S George



Arif Mohammed Khan must be the most frustrated politician in India today. He has been made governor when his own conviction is that he can serve the country best by being a power-wielding minister. He is taking out his frustration on the elected government in Kerala, the state he is ‘governing.’ He seems convinced that he as governor has a political role to play as much as the ministers of the state. Result: An ugly situation that has been saved from becoming a public scandal only by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s diplomatic handling of it.

The state government wanted to call a special session of the legislature to express support to the ongoing farmers agitation. The discipline of the farmers, not to mention their determination, has won universal admiration. But the Modi Government sees them as enemies which means that those who are loyal to the government must criticise them. Arif Khan seems to be on the side of the critics. He refused permission for the
legislature to convene.

This is what happens when a man becomes over-enthusiastic about proving his loyalties. The Governor’s loyalty must be to the Constitution and only to the Constitution. The constitution also defines his powers. As per convention, he has no authority to ask why the legislature has to be called into session. That is a political right vested in the political leadership. In this case the opposition had also joined the ruling coalition in support of a special session. The Governor’s interference in such a situation is plain politics. Governor Khan’s keenness to please the BJP Government in Delhi is a bit too obvious.

Perhaps he should learn a thing or two from the Chief Minister’s expert handling of the spat. Asked if the Governor was playing politics, he smartly avoided an answer. He then went on to say that he had no problem with the Governor exercising the powers given to him. This was his way of saying that the Governor had no business exercising powers not vested in him. Calling a session of the legislature is a political matter and if the cabinet takes the decision to do so, the Governor’s role is to accept it. What must be discussed in the house is for the legislature to decide, not for the Governor.

It cannot be that an experienced politician like Arif Khan was unaware of these facts. It is more likely that it was his awareness of the rights and wrongs of legislative procedures that made him choose the wrong interpretation in order to serve a calculated political purpose. People are not likely to accept the idea that an unelected office-holder such as a Governor can interfere with the proceedings of an elected legislature. Arif Khan takes that position because he has chosen to please Delhi rather than carry out his limited constitutional obligations.

If he were a wise man, Khan will learn from the way the consummate politician that is Pinarayi Vijayan handled the matter. With a smile he said the proper procedure was for the Governor to accept what the cabinet recommended. He sent two senior cabinet ministers to discuss the matter with the Governor. Subsequent reports suggested that the Governor softened his position. If he did, it could not have been just because of the Christmas cake the ministers had taken with them.

In most states the Governor is but a decorative part of the parliamentary system. As a resident of Karnataka, I cannot offhand remember who is the Governor of the state. This is in spite of the fact that this Governor, Vajubhai Vala, once invited the BJP to form the Government in preference to the largest alliance of parties. He failed of course. Who for that matter is the Governor of Tamil Nadu? We have to look into the records to find out. (What a pity that hardened party apparatchiks are appointed governors these days.)

As to who is the Governor of Kerala, even people in UP and Assam must be aware. He is in the news with his self-serving ambitions. See how he enjoys every opportunity to talk to a media crowd, explaining how he is the embodiment of wisdom unlike the run-of-the-mill politicians. The Centre must help this man get out his frustrations. Give him a political post and all will be well. (So we hope.)

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