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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 4, January 14, 2023

Tamilnadu Governor Ravi in Skipping a Para of his Address to the Assembly Violates His Oath to Defend the Constitution | S N Sahu

Saturday 14 January 2023, by S N Sahu

Governor of Tamilnadu R N Ravi had accepted the Government drafted text of his address to the Assembly and on 9th January 2022 while reading out that text, as mandated by the Article 176 of the Constitution, skipped a paragraph containing, among others, “secularism”, “Dravidan model of Governance” and names of illustrious leaders modern India such as Periyar, Ambedkar, K Kamraj and Karunanidhi. He also spoke something on his own and it was not part of the address. It is rather paradoxical that he preferred not to read that para and spoke something extempore in spite of according approval to the text of the address. When the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu M K Stalin moved a resolution in the House that the written and printed text of Governor’s address both in English and Tamil should form the proceedings of the Assembly and not anything else said by Governor, R N Ravi walked out without even waiting for the adoption of the resolution and play of national anthem.

President’s Address to Parliament and Governor’s Address to State Assembly

It is well established that the text of the address of the President of India to the Parliament is drafted by the Prime Minister’s Office and in the case of the Governor’s address to the State Assembly, it is done by the Chief Minister’s Office of that particular State. After the draft is prepared and cleared at the Governmental level it is sent to the President or Governor as the case may be. In case the President or Governor approves the draft it is read by those dignitaries while addressing the Parliament or State Assembly respectively. If the draft undergoes alteration on the instruction of the President or Governor then the altered portions are submitted to the Union Government or State Government as the case may be for approval and the approved text is used by the President or Governor. In the event of Union or State Government rejecting those alterations then the Government approved draft has to be used by the President in case of the Parliament or the Governor in case of the State.

Tamilnadu Governor Disrespected the Constitution

So when Tamilnadu Governor skipped the portions of the address prepared by the State Government and approved by him it created an extremely embarrassing situation for himself. The word secular is there in the Preamble of the Constitution and is held by the Supreme Court as its basic structure. As Governor he has taken oath as mandated by Article 159 of the Constitution to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Ravi should have read the word Secular while reading out his address. In deliberately skipping a para containing that word the Governor is not acting in accordance with the oath he has taken. So R N Ravi’s conduct in leaving out the word “secular” in his address to the Assembly may be interpreted as disrespect to the Constitution. One of the Fundamental duties enshrined in the Constitution is that every citizen should respect the Constitution and national flag. Governor Ravi’s conduct is certainly not in tune with the Fundamental Duty. On this very ground he should quit his office.

If the Governor of Tamilnadu persuaded himself by his own belief that he had discretion to read some portions of his address to the Assembly and pass over other, then he is violating the legislative intent of the Constituent Assembly embodied in the idea that Governor has no discretionary power except in the event of appointment of Chief Minister of the State in case no political party gets majority in the elections.

The Supreme Court in Nabam Rebia vs Deputy Speaker of Arunachal Assembly has categorically observed that making a special address under Article 176 of the Constitution would also be executive functions performed by the Governor on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers and there can hardly be any dispute on this. So the address drafted by the State Government for the Governor and submitted to his or her amounts to advice from the Council of Ministers and the Governor has to read it out without skipping anything written in it. So R N Ravi by skipping a para of the address to the Tamilnadu Assembly was not acting on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of the Tamilnadu Government. His conduct in this regard is also violative of the Constitution itself.

Besides, he willfully omitted the names of Periyar, Ambedkar, K Kamraj and Karunanidhi. These names of well-acclaimed personalities hailing from different political persuasions represent a bipartisan approach and in deliberately skipping these names Governor Ravi was displaying an approach which is not non-partisan.

Some Examples of Governors Skipping Paras

There have been occasions in the recent past and earlier when Governors of some States did not read out portions of the texts of the address. However, the addresses prepared by the respective States were laid on the Table of the Assemblies of those States. In this article, some instances of Governors skipping paragraphs from their addresses and their walking out of the Assemblies have been discussed. Of course, later those addresses were laid on the tables of those legislatures and it was announced by the respective Speakers of those Assemblies that addresses were deemed to have been read out by the Governors.

For instance, on 8th February 1965 Governor of West Bengal, Padmaja Naidu tried to read the address to the members of both the State Assembly and Legislative Council assembled together. She could not do so because of repeated shouting by Members and her pleas for silence fell on deaf ears. As a result, she left the Assembly and the Speaker informed the House that the Governor was pleased to deliver her speech a copy of which was laid on the table. The matter was dragged to the Calcutta High Court on the ground that the commencement of the Assembly Session could not be held to be constitutionally valid because the Governor had not addressed the House. In Syed Abdul Mansur Habibullah vs The Speaker, West Bengal, the High Court examined, among others, the point concerning the constitutional significance of the Governor leaving the Legislature being unable or unwilling to deliver the address. The Court duly noted that the Governor “began her address, felt disturbed by noises, asked for silence and then left the Assembly Hall, possibly under the impression that no useful purpose would be served by speaking where she cannot be heard”. It also took note of the point that after the Governor walked away, the speaker laid a copy of her address on the table of the House. In its operative order the Court then held that “A Governor cannot decline to deliver a speech and thus refuse to perform a constitutional duty”. It also said that “when the Governor makes a due attempt to perform the duty under Article 176 but fails and makes up the failure by the publication of the address to the members of the Legislature by a well-known method, namely, by laying the address on the table or the House, the duty is merely irregularly performed and the validity of such performance shall not be called in question by reason of such irregularity alone”.

While examining the issue of the Governor leaving the Assembly, the High Court made a reference to the Members of the Legislature sometimes walking out of the legislative Chamber during the Legislative session to register some sort of Parliamentary protest on some issue or other. It then sharply observed, “A Governor leaving the Legislative Chamber, as was done in the present case, is… unprecedented. The constitutional significance of such an unceremonial departure is difficult to imagine”. It then remarked, “This is not the occasion for speaking at length on the significance of such an unprecedented state of "affairs" and it was hoped that it would not happen again."

In 1966 the Governor of Rajasthan while reading his address to the Assembly faced disturbances from some Members of the House who interrupted his speech. As a result, he read some portion of the speech and left the Assembly. In Yogendra Nath Handa And vs State of Rajasthan the State High Court held that the speech of the Governor was treated as read after he finished reading out certain sections of that speech.

Tamilnadu, Governor Ravi walked out of the Assembly without facing any disturbance from the Members, and that too by skipping a para of the address and before the national anthem was played. It constituted an offence to the national anthem and signified the unceremonial dimension of his conduct.

Professor Faizan Mustafa has written that in 1966 Governor of West Bengal Dharam Vira refused to read a portion of the address to the Assembly. That portion was about the dismissal of the First United Front Government by Dharam Vira himself and the Calcutta High Court held that dismissal as constitutionally valid. The then Chief Minister Ajaya Mukherjee asked the Governor not to skip that para but the Governor did not pay heed to it. According to Mustafa the Calcutta High Court later stated that the Governor could skip irrelevant portions or those parts which had nothing to do with the policies and programmes of the Government.

Example set by President K R Narayanan

The best way to deal with a situation like this is to follow the example set at the level of the Union Government. So far no incumbent occupying the office of the President of India has skipped a para of address to the Parliament. President K R Narayanan used to make many alterations in the addresses drafted by Vajpayee Government and those alterations were very gracefully accepted by Prime Minister Vajpayee and his cabinet. I recall that in one draft there was no reference to secularism and K R Narayanan inserted a few lines with specific mention of secularism and secular ethos. Later it was accepted by the Government and the address was read out by Mr. Narayanan.

There was another occasion when Vajpayee Government inserted in the address that the Government would review the Constitution. President Narayanan read it out. Later on, the occasion of the golden jubilee of the Republic while delivering his speech in the Central Hall of the Parliament he departed from that address to the Parliament and sharply observed, “let us examine if the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution.” That statement forced the Vajpayee Government to establish a Commission not to review the Constitution but to review the working of the Constitution. That was how he lived up to his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. The Governor also takes the same oath, and therefore, every incumbent of the post including R N Ravi must act in accordance of the oath he has taken. What he did in skipping a para of his address and leaving the Tamilnadu Assembly without waiting for the national anthem to be played is unbecoming of the high constitutional post he occupies. He has to rectify his undoing to uphold the dignity of his exalted office.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan)

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