Above the fray?

Governor’s role in the Tamil Nadu drama revives questions about the politicisation of the office.

Written by Maneesh Chhibber | Updated: February 17, 2017 4:12 pm
Edappadi Palaniswami, new CM, tamil nadu, tamil nadu government, sasikala, sasikala convicted, sasikala jail, o panneerselvam, new CM, jayalalithaa, da case, money laundering, tamil nadu politics, vidyasagar rao, aiadmk, bommai judgement, Bommai case, supreme court, indian express opinion, india news Chennai: Chief Minister ‘Edappadi’ K Palaniswami being presenting a floral bouquet by Governor CH Vidyasagar Rao after he taking the oath as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu during the swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan in Chennai on Thursday. PTI Photo

On February 5, O. Panneerselvam, who took over as Tamil Nadu chief minister on the night of December 5 within hours of the death of J. Jayalalithaa, resigned. Since then, the political landscape of Tamil Nadu has witnessed many twists and turns.

But, in this seemingly never-ending drama, one among the dramatis personae, Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, once a BJP leader, has performed the role according to a script that we have all come to expect. Almost as perfectly as the Indian public has come to expect of any political appointee presiding over the many Raj Bhawans in the states — playing the Centre’s eyes and ears, but mostly the hatchet man. Rao’s controversial role (or should one say, the lack of action on his part) that led to a prolonged stalemate in the state has once again brought the focus back on the institution of the governor in India.

WATCH VIDEO |5 Things To Know About Edappadi Palanisami

But, first, what could the governor have done differently once Panneerselvam resigned and accused Sasikala and her alleged henchmen of forcing him to resign? Rather than inexplicably wait and allow time for horse-trading, he should have immediately started the exercise of finding out who in the AIADMK enjoyed the support of the MLAs and asked that person to take oath and prove his/her majority on the floor of the House — a test mandated in the Bommai judgment of the Supreme Court.

As Justice P.B. Sawant, one of the judges who decided the Bommai case, suggested, the governor should have given the first chance to Panneerselvam, the interim CM, to prove his majority on the floor of the House. Instead, he allowed both sides — Panneerselvam and Sasikala — to keep making efforts to lure each other’s supporters, while at the same time indicating that he was waiting for the judgment of the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case, which finally came on February 14. Finally, Edappadi Palaniswami from the Sasikala camp has been sworn in as the CM, and he will have to prove his majority in the assembly within 15 days.

How did the governor know the judgment would be delivered so soon? Did he check with the Supreme Court Registry? What if the judgment had not been delivered for another few weeks? These are questions that he must answer, especially since there are many who feel that the BJP-led NDA government wasn’t inclined to allow Sasikala to take over as chief minister.

Rao’s actions, and his inactions, give rise to the old charge levied against many others like him: Was he acting as an agent of the party ruling at the Centre and trying to implement its agenda? The Bommai judgement also made it clear that the governor has no business to try and decide on the genuineness or otherwise of letters of support submitted by those claiming to enjoy majority support in the legislature.

WATCH VIDEO | 5 Lesser Known Facts About Sasikala Natarajan

Since Independence, governors have rarely been seen as independent of the Centre and often as going out of their way to do its bidding to destabilise governments in the states ruled by parties in opposition. Many government-appointed commissions, including the Sarkaria Commission, the Venkatachaliah Commission, Punchhi Commission, as well as judgments by the apex court in cases like Bommai’s have underlined the need to have independent-minded governors.

In its report, the Sarkaria Commission noticed that the evidence before it had “a common thread that much of the criticism against the governors could have been avoided if their selection had been made on correct principles to ensure appointment of right type of persons as governors”. More importantly, replying to a questionnaire on the issue put out in the public domain by the commission, a cross-section of the public and politicians which was critical of the quality and standard of some of the persons appointed as governors, pointed out that “discarded and disgruntled politicians from the party in power in the Union, who cannot be accommodated elsewhere, get appointed (as governors)”. “Such persons, while in office, tend to function as agents of the Union government rather than as impartial constitutional functionaries,” the commission was told.

Other important responses, all valid even today, were that the “number of governors who have displayed the qualities of ability, integrity, impartiality and statesmanship has been on the declining side” and that there were “instances of persons who had to resign from office as ministers following judicial strictures, being subsequently appointed as governors”.

Instances of governors who returned to active politics after completing their tenure in the Raj Bhavan were also aplenty. To deal with this issue, the commission recommended a criterion for someone to be appointed a governor. The criteria included the person being “eminent in some walk of life”, “should be a person from outside the state”, “should be a detached figure and not too intimately connected with the local politics of the State”, and, lastly, but most importantly, he should “not have taken too great a part in politics generally and particularly in the recent past”.

One of the key criticisms of governors has been their tendency to (mis)use Article 356 if the Centre so wants. As former Lok Sabha secretary general and Constitution expert Subhash C. Kashyap says, “the governor must not give out the impression that he is acting politically.”


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First Published on: February 17, 2017 12:04 am
  1. H
    Hemant Kumar
    Feb 17, 2017 at 2:18 pm
    During Congress/ UPA he was sleeping when blatant game of biased gov was on. Now he has woken. Kumbhkaran ki aulad. Die in a handful of water
    1. विद्रोही भारतीय
      Feb 17, 2017 at 4:56 am
      The writer build this w piece on the question - "How did the governor know the judgment would be delivered so soon?". Interestingly, he refereed to P . B. Sawant's i/v as well. Guess, he did not have enough time to read the full i/v where he had mentioned how the Governer can find about the schedule of the judgement and how calling Sasikala could have been a gaffe is she is convicted a day later of her swearing in... I am not blaming the writer... he is a warrior and fighting an ideological battle, blindfolded. But what about the editorial standard of this paper?
      1. H
        Feb 17, 2017 at 9:33 am
        Governor position should Ben renamed as PIMPnor
        1. V
          Feb 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm
          I dont even know how this got published. Doesnt indian express has a review process. It should have been trashed at the first instance. The governer had no option but to wait and watch and he pla no favourites here.
          1. A
            abhisek bagarty
            Feb 17, 2017 at 5:54 pm
            Non sense article governed was trying to keep the official dignity of the post of cm.it would have been very egregious for a sitting cm to be sent behind for proved corruption .kudos to the governer for his astute sagacity and patience.
            1. B
              Feb 18, 2017 at 6:25 am
              waste of time!
              1. B
                bha patel
                Feb 17, 2017 at 7:42 pm
                Nothing new. We have seen modi haring AK through ediot gov
                1. V
                  Venkatraman Shenoy
                  Feb 17, 2017 at 6:53 am
                  Editorial standard? What is that? Indian Express and its Legal Editor, Manish Chhibber will write anything to hurt the BJP government.
                  1. V
                    Venkatraman Shenoy
                    Feb 17, 2017 at 6:50 am
                    When the entire media is praising the governor for being diligent and cautious and exercising his powers correctly. Maish Chhibber has a problem with it because the governor is from the BJP!!!
                    1. D
                      Feb 17, 2017 at 9:30 am
                      Another piece of garbage from IE. I hate people talking about rules and procedures while people's wishes are subverted. Based on the procedures, a crook could have become the CM which was fortunately avoided due to the Governor's wise action. Still the crooks won because the one in power is just a proxy - go check the polls. Not even 7% approve those in power now in TN - a whopping 77% favor OPS. If people;s wishes are not reflected, then what is democracy ?
                      1. G
                        Geetha Iyer
                        Feb 20, 2017 at 1:26 am
                        In my opinion the TN governor erred in his decision to invite Sasikala chosen candidate to invite him to show his majority since the governor was told that 124 is bigger than 10. My decision would have been to look beyond the mere number. The feelings of million number of people is bigger than 124. After all these MLAs are elected by the same people. Looking only inside the rule book will never give the correct decision. The rules are made for guidance only. One must use his logic and intelligence to arrive at a decision acceptable to the majority of the people. That is why eminent people are posted at high offices. Verdict like Boommi case should not be quoted as precedence. One case need not be the same as the other. The governor could have avoided all the happenings if he had properly analysed the situation and not get instructions from higher ups. What we need urgently is a total reform in legislature. Will the govt and their representatives be bold enough to enact?
                        1. G
                          Feb 17, 2017 at 4:24 am
                          Could there have been a more lazy article and written by a hack.
                          1. L
                            Feb 17, 2017 at 2:34 pm
                            The columnist failed to raise / answer the main issue in today's TN political environment. Is not it Governor "s duty to check if elected representatives are controlled by a mafia gang? If yes, is it not his duty to free them? Don't we have any legal route to arrest them just on the charge of attempt to subvert democracy?
                            1. J
                              jayaram reddi
                              Feb 17, 2017 at 2:37 am
                              This guy is talking nonsense. He doesn't deserve to be a writer. You should not publish his writings. The Governor acted very properly in this entire episode.
                              1. K
                                Feb 17, 2017 at 3:14 am
                                Gov acted properly, the way BJP wanted it to be. A person who was BJP leader for all his life time will never fit into a secular state like TN, where hindutva groups hardly own a single embly seat all along the history. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Its very clear he was excecuting the orders of BJP high command. The 'so called' Local BJP leaders voicing for and on behalf of Gov was a clear indication of that. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Importantly, its nothing new. If somebodytake this as anti-BJP stand, it shows their intellectual poverty. Congress was doing this all along. State gov's were traeted like banana republics by Cong earlier.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Cong govt's abused article 356 in the worst possible way, atleast it was used used 4-5 times in each state, particularly in south. It was not just abusing, it ws all anti-democratic and killing people's mandate.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The author should have been more elaborate and sharp against those abuses and situations which made centre to dissolve local emblies.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Anyways, good article. Need of the hour. Time to demand more autonomy for states.
                                1. S
                                  Sankaran Krishnan
                                  Feb 17, 2017 at 3:48 am
                                  Now the Uncertainty begins with proxy rule by the Mannargudi Gangsters and the Governor is the silent spectator and nothing can be done with the post (which is additional is different) and now day light robbery begins, let us see how it goes from now on wards and will the people also keep quiet or protest against the rulers is the ???
                                  1. A
                                    Feb 17, 2017 at 9:00 am
                                    Let's get real. How does someone get appointed Governor in the first place ?
                                    1. M
                                      Mahender Goriganti
                                      Feb 17, 2017 at 2:08 am
                                      I did not even bother to read what Islamic Express has to say predicting what it spew-out from armchair pundits as Gospels and Fatwas.
                                      1. M
                                        Feb 17, 2017 at 3:56 am
                                        well said!
                                        1. N
                                          Niladrinath Mohanty
                                          Feb 17, 2017 at 3:30 am
                                          I live far away from Chennai and not conversant with Tamilanadu politics except what I read in the newspapers including IE. The impression I had got was that Ms. Sasikala is a person with little scru*ples. After going through the Supreme Courts judgement it is confirmed, I have feeling that the wise voters of Tamilnadu will reject Sasikala and her supporters if a fresh election held now and that will be the real test of democracy.
                                          1. O
                                            Feb 17, 2017 at 12:32 am
                                            And this article revives questions about politicisation and pr0$ 7!7u 710n of the News Media.
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