Cover Story: Bulldozing the idea of India

Telangana: Deep divide between TRS and Governor Tamilisai Soundarajan

Print edition : May 20, 2022

Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on April 6. Photo: PTI

The TRS government sees Governor Tamilisai Soundarajan’s actions as political interference and an overreach of her office.

Tamilisai Soundararajan’s appointment as the Governor of Telangana in September 2019, less than four months after she lost in the Lok Sabha election from the Thoothukkudi constituency in Tamil Nadu, came as a surprise.

Ever since she began her sojourn at the Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad, the former president of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has had a running battle with K. Chandrashekar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government. Her tenure has been controversial, punctuated by mutual mistrust, political innuendo and antagonism.

According to a senior Minister, the impasse between the ruling dispensation and the Governor has deteriorated to such an extent that the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have been “unofficially boycotting” even official functions at the Raj Bhavan. It is a well-known fact that Chandrasekhar Rao has stopped visiting the Raj Bhavan, which he was wont to visit during the tenure of E.S.L. Narasimhan, Tamilisai Soundararajan’s predecessor. He even skipped the Republic Day function. With the Chief Minister not in attendance, the Governor went ahead and delivered the Republic Day speech despite the fact that it had not been sent to the government for its approval. The speech became controversial after State Ministers contested the Governor’s statement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sanctioned medical colleges for Telangana.

Tamilisai Soundararajan’s proximity with her erstwhile political comrades has not gone down well with the Telangana government. The ruling dispensation and even the Governor’s acolytes have found several of her decisions—statements to the media and actions, including her much-publicised, visit to New Delhi in the first week of April and her meeting with the Prime Minister—to be politically interfering and an overreach of the constitutional powers of her office. Many pundits opine that Tamilisai Soundararajan’ actions have the imprimatur of the Centre.

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For her part, the Governor has repeatedly expressed disappointment over attempts by TRS leaders and Ministers to attribute political motives to her while she went about discharging her duties. She has repeatedly stated that she was keeping the Centre apprised of “all developments” in the State in her monthly reports. But many of her reported statements, including the one that some democratically elected Chief Ministers were trying to become dictators and that it was difficult and challenging to work with the Telangana Chief Minister, have irked the regional party. The TRS also took objection to the Governor’s insinuation that disagreements between a Governor and a duly elected Chief Minister will affect a State’s well-being.

Talasani Srinivas Yadav, Minister for Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Cinematography, said the Governor’s utterances were “painful and irresponsible”. Speaking to Frontline, Srinivas Yadav observed that the Telangana government was a two-time, duly, democratically elected government. He said: “The government does not need to, and cannot be apprising the Governor on a day-to-day basis. It is not fair on her part to say that it is tough working with the Chief Minister.”

New Delhi visit

In the first week of April, on what was purportedly a private visit, Tamilisai Soundararajan met Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. She told the media in New Delhi after the meetings that the TRS government was insulting the gubernatorial office. She added that if her constitutional office was not respected, she would leave it to the people of Telangana to judge how the Chandrashekar Rao government was treating her. Tamilisai Soundararajan is also officiating as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry.

The Governor is reported to have handed over reports on the happenings in Telangana to both Modi and Amit Shah. The reports allegedly contain information on a variety of issues, including a drugs heist at an upmarket watering hole in Hyderabad, the Chandrashekar Rao government’s decision in March to dispense with the customary Governor’s address ahead of the Budget session of the Legislative Assembly, the political situation in Telangana, the controversy surrounding paddy procurement, and the alleged protocol violations by officials of the All India Service cadre.

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After her meeting with Modi, the Governor stated: “There is no reason for the State government to [act] like that with Raj Bhavan. I am not perturbed by the way the government is treating the Governor. I will move forward and do not care for violation of protocols. I am a lady Governor and a friendly Governor.” The Governor, however, added that she was “not giving any report card to the Prime Minister”.

The Chandrashekar Rao government has not taken kindly to Tamilisai Soundararajan’s Delhi visit and has questioned her meeting with Modi, Amit Shah and Nirmala Sitharaman during the visit. Several Ministers are of the opinion that as per constitutional norms the Governor should have called on President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu.

Satyavathi Rathod, Minister of Women and Child Welfare, said: “How can a Governor meet the Prime Minister and Union Ministers in Delhi and submit false reports on the Telangana government in a bid to defame it? There is no doubt that she is functioning like a BJP leader. If she functions as a Governor, we will respect the Governor.” Several Cabinet colleagues of Chandrashekar Rao, including Allola Indrakaran Reddy, Minister of Endowments and Law, have echoed Satyavathi Rathod’s sentiments. Indrakaran Reddy alleged that Tamilisai Soundararajan was acting in favour of the BJP as she was previously that party’s Tamil Nadu president.

Besides accusing the Chandrashekar Rao government of disrespecting the office of Governor, Tamilisai Soundararajan said that protocols were ignored whenever she visited any part of the State, with senior officials of the district administration, including the Superintendent of Police, failing to receive her as per the protocol. She insisted: “I have the authority to enforce rules, but I will not do so. The Chief Secretary is aware of the protocol. The Governor’s office must be respected.”

The issue came to a boil when the Governor accused the State government of not making preparations for her visit to the temple town of Bhadrachalam. She alleged that only a few officials were present to receive her and that too only because a Minister had arrived. The government has strongly denied this accusation.

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The Governor is also sore that neither the Chief Minister nor his Cabinet colleagues responded to the invitation to attend the pre-Ugadi celebrations organised at the Raj Bhavan on April 1.

Many political pundits are of the opinion that the friction between the Governor and the State Chief Minister began in August 2021, on the eve of the Huzurabad byelection, when the Governor refused to clear the nomination of former Congress leader Padi Kaushik Reddy as a Member of the Legislative Council under the Governor’s quota, despite the Chief Minister making it amply clear that he was extremely keen on the politically prudent nomination.

The Governor’s refusal to nominate Kaushik Reddy, a former Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee secretary, who had joined the TRS 10 days before he was nominated, resulted in Chandrashekar Rao having to nominate Kaushik Reddy through the ‘Member of the Legislative Assembly quota’, but only after a four-month hiatus.

Although the Governor defended her refusal to nominate Kaushik Reddy and stressed that there was nothing political in the decision, since she had accepted other nominations in the past, the die had been cast. The TRS government also had a disagreement with the Governor over the appointment of the pro tem Chairman to the Legislative Council.

Grievances box

The Governor’s decision in early 2022 to inaugurate a “Suggestions and Grievances Box” on the periphery of the Raj Bhavan’s precincts to enable people to share their ideas, suggestions and bring their grievances to the notice of the Raj Bhavan did not go well with the government. It was seen as an overreach of the Governor’s powers. Tamilisai Soundarajan had maintained that the box would act like a bridge between the government, its agencies and the people, and that she hoped to gather the petitions and send them to the officials concerned.

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The Telangana government’s decision in March not to invite the Governor for the traditional address to the joint sitting of the legislature before the start of the Budget session was yet another uncomfortable reminder of the standoff between the government and Governor. The government cited constitutional provisions to defend its decision, arguing that the Budget session was a continuation of the Monsoon session, which had not been prorogued, and hence the Governor’s speech was not needed. However, the decision’s political intent was all too obvious.

With indications that of the impasse will continue, Srinivas Yadav told Frontline “one cannot be a BJP leader and a Governor at the same time”.

He said: “It works both ways, right? Give and take respect. The Constitution is clear. It imposes some limitations on what a Governor can say or do. No Governor can call press conferences where politically loaded statements are made that align with the political party she or he is associated with. The Governor of Telangana is unnecessarily getting involved in the politics of the State. As a woman Governor, we have the utmost respect for her. But her statements and allegations are irresponsible and hurt us. If she wants to criticise our government she can do so, but as a BJP leader, not as the Governor of Telangana. During the pre-Ugadi event, she made political statements. The Governor’s actions are clearly in violation of constitutional provisions.”