The Modi government has underlined that governorships are political postings. As soon as it came into power, it conveyed its message to Raj Bhavans around the country that those appointed by the UPA should resign. Three governors, from UP, Chhattisgarh and Nagaland, quit immediately, while two others, from Karnataka and Tripura, were permitted to stay because they were at the end of their terms. The governors of Goa and West Bengal resigned after extensive questioning on their role in the AgustaWestland helicopter purchases. Meanwhile, Kamla Beniwal, erstwhile governor of Gujarat, who had taken on Narendra Modi on several occasions when he was chief minister, has now been sent to Mizoram. There is talk of Sheila Dikshit, governor of Kerala who refused to quit her post, being sent to a northeastern state as well. It is unfortunate that this creates the perception that the Northeast is some kind of banishment for inconvenient governors, that those most visibly out of favour with the government are sent there.
Having declared that it is the government’s prerogative to appoint governors and that political appointees should resign voluntarily, as BJP leader and Union minister Venkaiah Naidu asserted, the NDA has made no attempt to provide a non-partisan justification for its gubernatorial choices. Previous political dispensations have also used the office instrumentally, as a sinecure for favoured officials or lofty retirement homes for political veterans. But the Modi government has made no departure from that dismal tradition. Its choices are not based on any neutral calculus of the kind of eminence required to fill a critical constitutional post. In this context, its selection will inevitably be interpreted as a political message. And by bundling off known adversaries to the northeastern states, the government has sustained the damaging perception that this region is out of sight and out of mind, as far as the Centre is concerned.
This is particularly unfortunate, given the focused attention Modi paid to the Northeast during his election campaign, winning it away in substantial measure from political rivals. The BJP won seven out of 14 seats in Assam, and one of Arunachal Pradesh’s two seats. The Modi government has also paid special attention to this large, lonely region in the rail and general budgets, recognising the crisis of connectivity, infrastructure and development that held it back. But meaningfully drawing in the Northeast, and resolving its sense of disaffection and distance from the Centre, will require more than budget outlays and special schemes. It will need political outreach. The Modi government has got much of that signalling right. It is a pity that it should undo this goodwill with its approach to governors.