A Governor's removal

Published : Nov 19, 2004 00:00 IST

Tamil Nadu Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao resigns amid a legal and political battle.

in Chennai

TAMIL NADU Chief Minister Jayalalithaa not only has lost her battle against the Union government over the removal of State Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao but now faces a political storm. Leaders of Opposition parties are up in arms after she made public excerpts of the telephonic conversation she had with Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on October 28, when he "informed" her of the Centre's decision to replace Ramamohan Rao with Andhra Pradesh Governor Surjit Singh Barnala. The excerpts formed part of the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Lakshmi Pranesh to get Ramamohan Rao's removal stayed.

Opposition leaders including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Congress leader Salman Khurshid have demanded that Jayalalithaa resign for making public the recorded conversation. They argue that this violated the oath of secrecy she took when she was sworn in Chief Minister and was tantamount to a breach of privilege. A conversation between two constitutional functionaries is privileged communication, they argue. The Centre has also taken a serious view of the issue.

"There was no recording or taping of the Union Home Minister's conversation with me on 28.10.2004," Jayalalithaa claimed. She said that she had merely informed the Chief Secretary about the gist of the conversation as she recollected it. "In fact, even the petition filed in the Supreme Court specifically mentions that this is a `... gist of the conversation as recollected by the Chief Minister'," she said. There was, therefore, no breach of oath of secrecy, she maintained.

Karunanidhi demanded that the Chief Secretary too resign. He said that in a suit filed by her in the Supreme Court on October 25, Lakshmi Pranesh had alleged that Karunanidhi had declined to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he came to Chennai on October 23 in an attempt to pressure him to remove Ramamohan Rao. Another allegation in the suit is that the DMK wanted the Governor removed because he was not prepared to be a puppet in its hands and that the party was attempting to plant somebody of its choice to destabilise the Jayalalithaa government. These observations of Lakshmi Pranesh, the former Chief Minister said, not only went beyond the limits of a government official but portrayed her as a politician. "This is objectionable and illegal," Karunanidhi said. He wanted to know how the Chief Secretary came to know of the conversation between Shivraj Patil and Jayalalithaa.

Ramamohan Rao's exit became a fait accompli within hours of the Supreme Court rejecting for the second time, on October 29, the Tamil Nadu government's petition for a stay. On October 25, the Supreme Court had rejected a similar plea in a suit filed by the Chief Secretary. In the second application, the State government quoted press reports that the DMK was trying to "put pressure (on the Centre) for the removal of the Governor".

A three-member Bench consisting of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, and Justices C.K. Thakker and P.P. Naolekar declined to give interim relief to the Tamil Nadu government. The Bench said: "In these matters, there is no question of granting ex-parte interim relief. We will not stay [the removal of Ramamohan Rao or the appointment of Barnala]. These are issues to be settled elsewhere but such matters are being dumped here."

The Chief Secretary's affidavit disclosed that Shivraj Patil had phoned up the Chief Minister "to inform" her of the change of State Governor and that Barnala had "agreed" to be the new Governor. When the Chief Minister asked the Union Home Minister whether he was "consulting" her or "informing" her, he replied, "I am informing you." He asserted that it was a decision already taken.

When Jayalalithaa pointedly asked him how he could take this decision without consulting her, Patil conceded that the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations had recommended that the Centre should consult the State governments on the appointment of Governors. He, however, said, "... but this is the way we usually do these things" and described Barnala as a very good choice for Governor. Jayalalithaa told Patil that while Ramamohan Rao, a former Director-General of Police in Andhra Pradesh, had "no political affiliation", Barnala was "the specific nominee of Mr. Karunanidhi". Patil alleged that "a serious mistake" made by Ramamohan Rao was that he did not host the customary tea party on Independence Day. (The Goveror had gone to Athens to watch the Olympics.)

Within a few hours of the Supreme Court rejecting the Tamil Nadu government's application, Ramamohan Rao resigned. He took the unusual step of issuing a press release in which he said he resigned because the Centre wanted to "shift" him to a northeastern State but he could not accept it for family reasons. He added that there was "some criticism in certain political quarters" about his performance, especially "his alleged failure" to take appropriate action on the deteriorating law and order situation in the State; for giving consent to the Bill preventing forced religious conversions and to the Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act (TESMA); and his failure to intervene when allegations of rigging and violence were made in a Chennai Municipal Corporation byelection.

Ramamohan Rao said that as a former DGP, he should be credited with sufficient sense in assessing law and order situations. When Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu represented to him in late 2003 about the law and order situation, he had made his own assessment and sent a report to the Centre. He said he gave his assent to the Bill regarding forcible conversions on the basis of a unanimous judgment by a nine-member Bench of the Supreme Court that included four Judges from minority communities. His assent to TESMA, which appeared draconian, was based on specific provisions contained in Articles 311(2) and 311(3) of the Constitution, he clarified. To allege that he did not intervene in the Chennai Municipal Corporation byelection was "grossly misleading" since it was conducted by the State Election Commission, Ramamohan Rao said. In an interaction with the press, he said that he did not host the Independence Day tea party because of the mourning observed for the schoolchildren who died in a fire accident at Kumbakonam in the State.

When the National Democratic Alliance government headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party appointed Ramamohan Rao as Governor in January 2002, the DMK, which was part of the Central government then, was consulted. But the DMK was in the Opposition in the State, with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) headed by Jayalalithaa being in power.

The relationship between the DMK and the Governor was smooth for about six months but turned sour later. The DMK was hurt that Ramamohan Rao did not react when it made allegations about the AIADMK's violation of the election code in the Andipatti (from where Jayalalithaa contested) and Sathankulam Assembly byelections. The DMK did not like the fact that he accepted Jayalalithaa's constant reshuffling of Ministers and changes in their portfolios. She merely informed him through fax messages, sources close to the DMK said.

Another allegation was that the Governor often went off to Udhagamandalam (Ooty). When Opposition leaders wanted to present a memorandum to him he was away in the hill station. In October 2003, when Congress leader and the current Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was attacked by AIADMK men and he wanted to represent the matter to the Governor, the latter was in Udhagamandalam, the sources said.

They alleged that he did not send reports to the Centre regarding the State government employees' strike in July 2003 or the recent advocates' agitation seeking the transfer of Madras High Court Chief Justice B. Subhashan Reddy.

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