The little drama surrounding the “voluntary” resignations of some governors demanded by the Centre indicates that we are still unable to determine where constitutionality, democratic norms and political ethics intersect. Even as the Narendra Modi government presses for the resignation of governors appointed by the previous government, it is pointed out that the UPA too had been guilty of similar sins of commission. That everyone else has been doing something cannot, of course, be a robust political justification for doing it. So as the ugly drama unfolds, we need to think of three steps that would move the polity away from one-upmanship and search for the resolution of this issue, and others that involve the distribution of largesse by the executive.
Let us begin with the immediate issue, the resignations of governors. Most governments and all parties view governor appointments as a matter of executive discretion, through which political asylum can be provided for supporters or petty partisan agendas fulfilled by the appointees in the states under their care. So it is only in the fitness of things that we establish a convention where, after every election, all governors offer their resignation. This should have nothing to do with the outcome of the election. The same party may come back to power, but it might want to appoint new faces as governors. So long as our political parties look upon the office of governor as something that can be distributed among supporters or sympathisers, this convention could save bad blood and the unseemly tactic of asking for resignations through under-secretaries.
This is not to say that things should remain as they are. One part of the problem pertains to the appointment procedure. While the Constitution does not have any provisions for the process of appointing the governor, the experience of six decades has taught us that certain constitutional morals might be adopted in making appointments. As we know, practically anyone can become a governor. But defeated or temporarily sidelined politicians and retired officers seem to have a greater propensity to being appointed as governors. Let us assume that when there are political appointments, the ruling party will tend to choose more from among its supporters and sympathisers. There is no need to wince at this obvious fallout of democratic politics. However, a shade of propriety can be injected into it. Instead of merely moralising that appointees should be persons of integrity and experience, a simple convention can be adopted by all parties.
They can appoint anyone as governor when they come to power, with only one restriction — a cooling-off period. An individual should not be appointed if they have held any electoral, party or government office in the two years immediately preceding the appointment. Will the current government have the courage to adopt such a convention? Of course, it would be hard to expect this gesture from a government that continued…