One school maintains the view that the Governor is a mere figurehead, a “rubber stamp” of his cabinet or “a Post Office” between his Cabinet and the President or between his Cabinet and the Official Gazette.
Speaking on the nature of the gubernatorial position, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar said that the Governor would have “no functions which he is required (to perform) either in his discretion or in his individual judgment”.
According to the principles of the Constitution, he is required to follow the advice of the Council of the Ministers in all matters. Interpreting the scope of the provision that the Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor” Dr. B. R. Ambedkar further said – “I have no doubt that it is the intention of this Constitution that the Ministry shall hold office during such time as it holds the’ confidence of the majority.
It is on this principle that the Constitution will work. The reason why we have not so expressly stated it is because it has not been stated in that fashion or in those terms in any of the Constitutions which lay down a parliamentary system of Government.
‘During pleasure’ is always understood to mean that the ‘pleasure’ shall not continue notwithstanding the fact that the Ministry has lost the confidence of the majority, it is presumed that the Governor will exercise his ‘pleasure’ in dismissing the Ministry and, therefore, it is unnecessary to differ from what I may say the stereotyped phraseology which is used in all responsible Governments”.
Thus the Governor as conceived by the Constituent Assembly is to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. Late Mr. N. C. Chatterjee an M. P. and a leading constitutional lawyer maintained the view that Governor is a mere nominal head and “we should look to the British precedent for guidance regarding circumstances of evidential materials on which a Governor can dismiss a Council of Ministers”. Mr. Chatterjee expressed this view on Governor’s actions in West Bengal. He cited the fact that in England since 1832 the Monarch has never dismissed or removed a Prime Minister.
The Governor, therefore, should not dismiss a Ministry. Mr. H. V. Kamath also argued in the similar line. It is assailed that the Governorship has been treated as “old age pensions to weary politicians” or “consolation prizes for the Congressmen defeated at polls”. Mr. H. V. Kamath argued for the abolition of the Governorship as it is expensive and unnecessary. Others consider it as mischievous and superfluous Office.
The D. M. K. Party in Madras demanded the abolition of the office of Governorship. One Governor has reported to have complained that he is like “a qualified hotel keeper”. Sarojini Naidu, when she was the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, described herself as “a bird in a golden cage”. Sometimes few senior and reputed statesmen are reluctant to accept this office.
Mrs. Vijaylakshmi Pandit resigned Governorship of Bombay to become a member of the Parliament in 1964, and when she was asked to comment on this change she said humorously, “The Governor’s wife is more useful to the State than a Governor, and you know I have no wife.”
It is incorrect to accept that the office of the Governor is a superfluous and mischievous one. True, his functions are largely formal and are expected to be performed at the advice of the Ministers. Theoretically all executive powers are vested in the Governor. He is not always expected to act according to the advice of the Council of Ministers.
According to Late K. M. Munshi, a member of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly the Governor is “the watchdog of constitutional propriety and the link which binds the Centre to the States, thus securing the constitutional unity of India”.
He is required by oath of his Office, “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”. In constitutional crisis he is expected to act wisely. Late Mr. Sri Prakash, one time Governor in three States of India, felt the Governor had a positive role to play in crisis. He wrote, “it is clear that a Governor, if he is worthy of his salt, must come very prominently in the picture whenever there is any serious situation that might threaten the safety of the State and its Government.
I do not know what else he is therefore, however constitutional he may be. It is nowise of always going up to the Centre for advice and guidance in all great and small matters. That would be putting too much of a strain on the Centre for one thing and it would also mean abdicating functions and responsibilities that must be borne by persons in local charge”.
Thus the school which views that the Governor is not a mere constitutional ruler has cited the following occasions where the Governor can act on his behalf without seeking advice of the Council of Ministers. Some of those occasions are –
(i) The selection of a Chief Minister prior to the formation of the Council of Ministers,
(ii) Dismissal of a Ministry,
(iii) Dissolution of the Legislative Assembly,
(iv)Asking information from the Chief Minister relating to Legislative and Administrative matters,
(v) Refusing to give assent to a bill passed by the State Legislature and sending it back for reconsideration,
(vi)Reserving bills passed by the State Legislature for the assent of the President,
(vii) Advising the President for the proclamation of an Emergency under Article 356 of the Constitution,
(viii) Asking the Chief Minister to submit for the consideration of the Council of Ministers any matter on which a decision has been taken by a Minister, but which has not been considered by the Council of Ministers,
(ix) Seeking instructions from the President before promulgating an ordinance dealing with certain matters,
(x) In case of the Governor of Assam certain administrative matters connected with the Tribal areas of the State.
If one analyses each of these occasions described above, one may come to the conclusion that Governor is not a mere figurehead. The appointment of the Chief Minister is a prerogative of the Governor. After the General Elections the Governor is to invite the leader of the majority party to form the Ministry.
In case no party-forms the majority, the Governor may exercise his discretion. Another prerogative of the Governor is to dismiss the Ministry which has lost the support of the majority in the legislature. Mr. M. V. Pylee writes on this issue, “The discretionary power of the Governor to dismiss a Ministry also seems to exist if the Governor has reasons to believe that the Ministry is engaged in activities which are likely to endanger national security or solidarity.
After a party has come into office with avowed professions of allegiance to the Constitution and after joining office makes use of the privileged position of power to undermine the unity of the nation and establish an independent State or enter into secret negotiations with a foreign power with a view to breaking away from the federal union, the Governor may justifiably dismiss such a Ministry even if it enjoys a majority in the legislature”.
The power of dissolution of the Legislative Assembly is vested in the Governor. He may not be properly advised by the Ministry to dissolve the Assembly. In such a case he is fully entitled to act according to his discretion.
So far as advising the President for the proclamation of an Emergency is concerned, the Governor has a free hand to report the matter to the President. The Governor may exercise his discretionary power in refusing assent to a bill passed by the legislature in the first instance and reserving certain bills of the State Legislature for the assent of the President.
The Governor has also power to protect the interests of the minorities in the State. While acting as the Chancellor of the University in the State, he may not be always guided by the advice of the Ministers. Thus it is incorrect to assume that the office of the Governor is a mere superfluous one.
Yuvraj Karan Singh rightly observes, “The Governor, even in normal times, has an important role to play. Because of his non-party position, it is possible for him to take a more detached and impartial view of affairs in the State. As such, his advice can be of a considerable value to the Ministry.
Not being saddled with detailed day-to-day administration, he can take a long-range view of problems”. Thus the Governor as the nonpartisan adviser to the Council of Ministers of the State has the “right to be consulted, right to encourage and right to warn”. He is a detached observer of State politics and not an active politician.
He is only expected to act in case of constitutional crisis. Like the president of India he will be a “safety valve” of the Constitution and his function is “to lubricate the machine of the .Government and to see that its wheels are going well by reason not of his interference but of friendly action”.
The Governor serves as federal link between the Centre and the States. He is thus an essential part in the federal structure of our country. Mr. D. D. Basu writes, “The Governor is not going to be a mere figurehead. If the Governor is an active and good Governor, he could by means of getting in touch with the opponents of the party in power, reconcile them to a good number of measures and generally make the administration run smoothly”.
Thus the Governor is an essential part of the constitutional machinery, fulfilling an essential purpose and rendering essential service. In the words of late B. G. Kher (Ex-Chief Minister of Bombay), “A Governor can do a great deal of mischief, if he is a bad Governor, in spite of the very little power given to him under the Constitution we are framing”.
We may sum up the role of the Governor in our Constitution by stating that he is not a mere constitutional ruler, that he is expected to exercise his discretionary powers under the Constitution, that he is to serve as a federal link between the Centre and the State, that he is a non-partisan adviser to the Council of Ministers and that his office is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” in crisis.
A Devalued Office:
Unfortunately the high office of Governorship has lost today it’s hallow and dignity. It is now assailed as a “devalued office”. Often Governors are not shown proper respects and honors’ which they deserve as the Heads of the State. Often Governors are embarrassed in the State Legislative Assemblies.
Their offices are under severe criticisms by the members of the Legislature. Miss Padmaja Naidu was not allowed to deliver her opening address in the State Legislative Assembly as a result of loud protest of its members. The office of the Governorship is not held in high esteem in the eyes of the politicians and the public.
As Sri Prakash writes that Governors are considered to be “selfish hankers after office and have been appointed because they are mere flatterers of those who are in authority at the Centre”. He further observes, “As time passed everybody came to feel that a Governor was a powerless person made for exhibition in places of festivity and amusement.
Now he occupies a useless office and the money spent on him, entails injustice on the general tax payer”. This general and undisputed notion is responsible for the deterioration and devaluation of the Office of the Governor. It is now considered to be a rendezvous of second rate politicians and statesmen.
Further, it is accused that the Congress Party is using the Governors as party agents. Mr. Hiren Mukherjee described the Governor of West Bengal as “a white elephant” and “a rat gnawing at the vitals of the parliamentary system”. Further, some others lament over the lost glory of the Governors, who have become the pawns in the hands of the Central Government, moving from pillar to post, from one Ministry to another, and from Governorship to Ambassadors.
The Congress Party is doing a great disservice in appointing retired Governors in various party offices and sometimes giving the party tickets to them to contest the elections. This is a great disservice to the institution of Governorship. A retired Governor should not rejoin politics.
After the Fourth General Elections there was a great change in the political map of India. In the new situation created by the multiparty rule, the office of the Governor acquired a new importance. It is to serve as a link between the Centre and the State and is specially responsible for national integration and for the preservation of national standards in public administration.
The role of Governor was obscure as long as the same party presided over the destiny of the nation. The situation is now different and as such the Governor is to play a vital role in the changing situation.
In order to restore the glory which the office has lost the following suggestions may be taken into consideration.
1. Merit should be taken into consideration in appointment of Governors. Respectable and dignified persons should be attracted towards Governorship.
2. Once a person is appointed as a Governor his political career must come to an end. Neither during his term of office nor after he should have any connection with active politics. This will enhance the dignity of the office and make Governor free and impartial in the discharge of his functions.
3. Consultation with the Chief Minister in case of the appointment of Governor of the State should be insisted upon. Further, if necessary, the Centre may consult the Leaders of the Opposition regarding the appointment of Governors in different States. The present practice of nomination of the Governor by the President should continue. If necessary opposition leaders may be consulted in such appointments.
4. Negotiations between the Centre and States should take place through the knowledge of the Governors. The practice of the Centre of keeping direct relations with the States should be given up.
5. Governors should be regarded as the first judges of the situation in the State and that they should not always function under the instructions of the Centre. To free themselves from criticisms they should try to avoid frequent trips to New Delhi for consultation with the Centre.