On February 12, President Droupadi Murmu announced the appointment of new Governors in 12 States and one Union Territory, attracting serious scrutiny for its timing—several States go to the polls this year— and for the choices made. Some of the choices were clearly meant to set the Bharatiya Janata Party’s divided house in order, such as in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. The appointment of a judge who was on the Supreme Court bench that decided the Ayodhya case, and the induction of former Army officers in the Raj Bhavans in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh spurred a debate among political observers and the people in general.
The appointment of Gulab Chand Kataria, Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly, as Assam Governor is a clear political message to the senior leader and former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia that the BJP was solidly endorsing her leadership for the Assembly election in the State scheduled for November-December. Kataria is an RSS strongman who had openly challenged Raje’s pre-eminence.
Apparently, the BJP’s internal assessment was that unless Raje was given a free hand, intra-faction rivalries, coupled with a lack of enthusiasm from Raje herself, could spoil its chances in a State that is known for rotating power between the BJP and the Congress, currently the ruling party.
In Uttar Pradesh, where the media regularly speculates about Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s “not-so-cordial relations” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, it seems the BJP is set to placate the two-time Chief Minister rather than prop-up or facilitate any challenger to him when the general election is due in 2024 and retaining the party’s current tally of 62 (BJP and ally Apna Dal-S) out of 80 seats in the State is a necessity. Perhaps, it was with this intention that Shiv Pratap Shukla, a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh and potential challenger to Adityanath, has been made the Governor of Himachal Pradesh.
In Tamil Nadu, the BJP seemed divided between its State president K. Annamalai and senior leader C.P. Radhakrishnan. The tussle was out in the open recently when Radhakrishnan gave a call for a strike in Coimbatore against the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Annamalai’s legal team informed the Madras High Court that there was no such decision from the party. Radhakrishnan’s appointment as the Governor of Jharkhand is aimed at cementing Annamalai’s hold on party leaders in Tamil Nadu.
Bais out, Radhakrishnan in
Radhakrishnan replaces Ramesh Bais in Jharkhand. The latter’s showdown with Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who heads a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal coalition, has its roots in a mining lease that Soren awarded himself in 2021, which the BJP alleges was in violation of Section 9(A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Bais’ refusal to disclose his communications with the Election Commission over the question of Soren’s continuation in office kept everyone in suspense for a long time.
In February 2022, the Governor had even returned the manual on the formation of the Tribal Advisory Council. Bais had also returned the Prevention of Mob Violence and Mob Lynching Bill, 2021.
Bais heads to Maharashtra where Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s Governorship had been mired in controversy, with the latest being his assertion that saint Samarth Ramdas was a guru of Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shivaji. Several Maratha groups called for his resignation.
In Ladakh, where the twin issues of Chinese aggression and growing public disgruntlement with the BJP has rattled the party, B.D. Mishra replaces R.K. Mathur. The change of guard comes at a time when civil unrest over unemployment, land issues, and denial of several constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory has peaked.
There was talk in Ladakh’s bureaucratic circles that at Home Minister Amit Shah’s high-level meeting on the security situation in Leh and Ladakh on December 28, he was presented with an unflattering report card of Mathur. There was also the view that Mathur’s public interactions did little to curtail the growing anger of the populace.
Yet, if the intention was to assuage public anger— over non-inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution—experts said Mishra’s appointment was unlikely to do that. In a conversation with Frontline, the political commentator and historian Siddiq Wahid said: “Uncertainty is the last thing that is needed in Ladakh. Yet, that is exactly what this latest development is fuelling. When this, coupled with the fact that the people of both Leh and Kargil are not only sceptical but also disrespectful of the governments in the UT and at the Centre, it does not bode well for the BJP and its Ladakh policy.”
Mishra is a former brigadier of the Army and a former Commander of the Counter Hijack Force of the National Security Guard (NSG), popularly known as the Black Cat Commandos. In April 1993, he led an operation after an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked, at Amritsar’s Raja Sansi airport and rescued 126 passengers. When this reporter asked a senior official in Ladakh’s security apparatus whether there was any imminent threat of incursion that may have led to the decision, the source said, “Not likely, unless the Centre knows something that the UT doesn’t.”
Yet, as in Ladakh, Lieutenant General (retired) Kaiwalya Trivikram Parnaik, who has been appointed Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, is also a former Army officer. These appointments, according to experts, can hardly be without a strategic calculation in mind.
In Andhra Pradesh, the appointment of Justice S. Abdul Nazeer has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Nazeer, who demitted office as a judge of the Supreme Court on January 4, had been part of the benches that delivered key verdicts, including in the Ayodhya case and the triple talaq case. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi underlined the alleged conflict of interest, pointing out to reporters that the BJP’s own leader, the late Arun Jaitley, had said in Parliament in 2013 that “the desire of a post-retirement job influences pre-retirement judgments. It is a threat to the independence of the judiciary”.
Across a diverse section of the populace, Nazeer’s elevation has spurred a reflection: Should those in leadership roles in the media or the judiciary or the institutions that had been envisaged to act as a watchdog over the executive and to sustain healthy democracy, accept post-retirement plum postings offered by the ruling party? The need for such a reflection is ardently felt in the times of the Modi regime in which post-retirement induction of judges is becoming the norm rather than a rarity.
The CPI(M) in a tweet posted from its official handle described Justice Nazeer’s appointment as “Destroying credibility of Apex Court post by post, step by step”.
In the BJP regime, Governors increasingly seem to be working at cross purposes with non-BJP governments in several States, resulting in an asymmetric power play involving the executive and the constitutional head. The BJP’s response to this varies from being in denial to merely recounting the aberrations that took place when the Congress was in power.
Speaking with Frontline, Manindra Thakur, a political commentator, said that there was little equivalence between the obstructive roles played by Governors in the past and what is witnessed now. “Except during a part of Indira Gandhi’s regime, Governors have not interfered with the day-to-day functioning of governments. At crucial times, they may have taken a partisan stand to give an advantage to the ruling party at the Centre, but now that bias is visible all the time,” he said. He is among those who believe that there is a larger design to weaken, if not demolish, the federal structure.
The other new Governors appointed on February 12 were Lakshman Prasad Acharya in Sikkim, Biswa Bhusan Harichandan in Chhattisgarh, Phagu Chauhan in Meghalaya, Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar in Bihar, Anusuiya Uikye in Manipur, and La. Ganesan in Nagaland.
- On February 12, President Droupadi Murmu announced the appointment of new Governors in 12 States and one Union Territory.
- Some of the choices were clearly meant to set the Bharatiya Janata Party’s divided house in order, such as in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.
- In Andhra Pradesh, the appointment of Justice S. Abdul Nazeer has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Nazeer, who demitted office as a judge of the Supreme Court on January 4, had been part of the benches that delivered key verdicts, including in the Ayodhya case and the triple talaq case.
- In the BJP regime, Governors increasingly seem to be working at cross purposes with non-BJP governments in several States, resulting in an asymmetric power play involving the executive and the constitutional head.