Raj Bhavan’s moment of shame

By Toki Blah

It would be the understatement of the year to state that the whole of Meghalaya is apparently still shell shocked from the two powerful sex IEDs that hit the state. The twin blasts took place, in quick succession of one another, at the highest echelons of Governance. An elected MLA charged and arrested over rape of a minor. Aftershocks from this tremor seem to suggest that what has been revealed is just the tip of a clandestine sex racket, patronised perhaps by more than one political big wig. The refusal of the Home Minister to step down, even though the inn where repeated rapes took place belongs to his immediate family, simply enforces suspicion that the ruling party can ill afford to give the police a freehand in uncovering more skeletons from its cupboard. A second more powerful blast took place at the Raj Bhavan Shillong. Astonishingly the Governor himself designed the bomb and then lit the fuse. Power was misused; women were molested  and he had to pay the ultimate price for the indiscretions of the libido. He got the boot! In the process the institution known as the Raj Bhavan took the biggest hit. Its not sure whether this prestigious heritage establishment will ever recover from the blow, but one thing is clear, its sheen of historical grandeur has now been smeared with the smut of sleaze. It will never be the same again.

            The whole state has been in perpetual uproar ever since. Women and their organisations have spearheaded the agitation in both cases and why not? Questions about safety of women; the effectiveness of laws that seek to protect women; the credibility of our lawmakers and the sincerity of the administration in enforcing such laws, has now come to the fore. The surface has been scratched and the dirt is beginning to show. People are starting to doubt the efficacy of governance in Meghalaya and the sad fact is that there is ample evidence to sustain such doubts. The reluctance and hesitation of Meghalaya’s political establishment (both ruling and opposition) to condemn the rape of the minor; the attempt instead to defend and protect the rapist (by no less than the President of the MPCC itself) and the irresponsible and lackadaisical attitude of the  bureaucracy in its failure to advise the Governor from indulging in shindigs after office hours, are issues that makes one wonder if God alone knows what’s happening or what is going to happen to this state of ours. Our political leaders just love ‘gropings in the dark’ and it seems the political establishment itself is hell bent in maintaining that status quo!

            A fallout of all this, especially from the unhappy Shillong Raj Bhavan episode, is a growing misgiving and unease over the role and functions of a Governor of a state. People are starting to ask if the institution of the Governor is still relevant in Free Independent India? Do we still need this archaic arrangement that India inherited from its colonial masters? Do we still need to spend scarce resources in the upkeep of this redundant institution? Some have even imputed that the sole function of a Governor in Independent India is simply to act as a spy of the Centre over activities of the states. As such there should be a nationwide demand for the abolition of the Governor’s post. Its simply doing no one any good! At this point of time it will be prudent to examine if the above opinions and views are real or whether they are simply the overreactions of a shocked  public. A look at the constitutional provisions on the issue and whether these provisions have worked or not may perhaps provide us with the answer we seek .

            In an attempt to answer the above one must never forget that the Republic of India is composed of a Union of states. This union must never be confused with a Federation of states such as that which exists in the USA. The Constitution of India , unlike that of the US, is not the outcome of any contractual agreement among the participating states. On the contrary, states in India owe their creation and existence to Acts of Parliament ( Art 2) and  they, unlike their American counterparts, do not enjoy the right to secede from the union. The 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution has clearly demarcated Defence, Finance, Currency and Foreign Affairs as the sole prerogative of the Union Govt. The uniqueness of the Indian Constitution is its emphasis on centralisation for the sake of unity and integration of the nation while simultaneously encouraging decentralisation for the sake of good governance. Viewed from this perspective the need for a centrally appointed state Governor to keep an eye on what is going on and to ensure that states do not play truant, begins to make sense.

            To make more sense of the office of the Governor the following facts have to be also understood. The Governor of the States of India is appointed by the President of India. A Governor is appointed on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers, or in reality on the advice of the Prime Minister. Recipient states are seldom consulted before hand on their choice of governor. As such the Governor of every state in India can be said to be an appointee of the Central Govt and he is expected to report to his boss, the President. Nothing illustrates the relationship of the Governor with the Union Govt better than Art 356, where, the President of India, on receipt of a report from the Governor, can impose President’s Rule. The Governor owes his loyalty to the Central Govt and if we are to call a spade a spade, we have to accept the fact that the Governor acts as the eyes and ears of the Union Govt. Some may call it spying for the Central Govt. From the other side of the fence one can argue that if huge investments have been made for the unity, integrity and development of the nation, it stands to reason for the Centre  to have an independent agency to report back on how these investments have been utilised in the Union’s respective units. Hence the office of the Governor.

            The Constitution is also very clear on the duties and role of the Governor. Art 153 provides for the office of a governor in each state of the Union and Art 154 invests in him the Executive powers of the State. Among the most important of these is the power to (a) summon and prorogue sessions of the state assembly. (b) to appoint the council of ministers in the state cabinet  and (c) to give or withhold assent to Bills passed by the State Legislature. The Governor also acts as an umpire when contradictory claims on Govt formation are made by contesting parties. For a 6th Schedule state like Meghalaya the Governor has also been endowed with enormous powers over the establishment, creation and functioning of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). Sometimes in the heat of ADC passion and emotion, the hand  of an unbiased honest broker is called for. The role of the Governor in cooling tempers over a controversial Bill like the Village Administration Bill of the KHADC, is a case in hand. It has allowed cooler minds to ponder over the merits and demerits of the Bill. The office of the Governor, under certain prevailing circumstances, does have a vital and crucial role to play in ensuring good governance in the Country. Problem arises when merit, administrative experience and capability are ignored as qualifications in the appointment of a governor. It was the Congress who started the appointment of Governors based solely on party loyalty, irrespective of a persons character, ability and temperament. The chickens have now come home to roost. Nocturnal one to one interviews with nubile young things are now taken as perks of office. Surely Raj Bhavan and its occupant were meant for nobler things. It was never meant as a shelter for unscrupulous political court jesters! The need of Raj Bhavan is for a person who can deliver on the promises of the Constitution. The ship needs a captain. Lets give it one.

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