Gubernatorial dilemmas

Published : Nov 19, 2004 00:00 IST

in New Delhi

EVER since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came to power at the Centre, it has been engaged in easing out Governors closely identified with the previous National Democratic Alliance regime. When the government sounded some of the NDA-appointed Governors informally to quit office, that led to a political storm, with the Bharatiya Janata Party accusing it of politicising the office of Governor. The truth, however, is that the NDA-appointed Governors have themselves politicised the office by their omissions and commissions.

Former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana, who recently quit as Rajasthan Governor, was one such NDA-appointee who could never adapt himself to the politically neutral office. Appointed to the Raj Bhavan in Jaipur by the BJP in order to contain the factional problems in the party's Delhi unit on the eve of Lok Sabha elections this year, Khurana never reconciled himself to the fact that he had to be away from Delhi politics, which has remained his obsession all these years. Probably, considering his propensity to be involved in agitational politics in Delhi, the NDA regime did not want to remove him from Jaipur immediately.

The BJP government in Rajasthan did not appreciate Khurana's daily public durbars in Jaipur soon after his arrival. Taking a cue from the mild criticism of the durbar within the BJP and outside, Khurana stopped holding such interaction with the public, which is considered the prerogative of a political executive. However, his intense political background hampered his functioning as the Governor, who is expected to be politically neutral.

Soon after his resignation as Governor, Khurana said he considered the people of Delhi as "his gods and goddesses". He claimed that he quit in view of the "problems" being faced by Delhiites, particularly the Delhi government's move to relocate industries in the capital city. He said this meant that 1.25 lakh units would face closure and 15 lakh workers would be rendered jobless. He said it was his biggest mistake to accept the assignment of Governor, in January this year.

Bihar Governor Rama Jois, another NDA-appointee, also resigned, even though there was no immediate provocation for him to do so. Although Rabri Devi's Rashtriya Janata Dal government in Bihar had reasons to be unhappy with Jois, the UPA government in which RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is a Cabinet Minister did not seek his removal from office immediately after coming to power. In his Republic Day speech this year, Jois, going against convention, pulled up the State government for its poor record in maintaining law and order, and said it was a "matter of concern".

Jois was a former Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and a senior advocate in the Supreme Court before being appointed Governor. He was counsel for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the Ayodhya case, and his loyalty to Hindutva led to a conflict of interests during his term as Governor. His article in a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) organ while serving as Governor clearly showed that he was least concerned about maintaining the neutrality of his office. It is not clear whether Jois quit after the Centre advised him to do so, but the Centre must have subtly conveyed its displeasure over his overt political actions that are considered inconsistent with the office he occupied.

Punjab Governor O.P. Verma, another NDA-appointee, also resigned from office. Verma is a former Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court and a former Chairman of the Himachal Pradesh Human Rights Commission. Although he was not as close to the Sangh Parivar as other NDA-appointed Governors, the Centre has been annoyed with him since July 12, the day he signed the Punjab Termination of Agreements Bill a few hours after it was passed by the State Assembly.

By passing the Bill, the Punjab government terminated all river water-related agreements between Punjab and the neighbouring States, and this hugely embarrassed the Centre, which was in the dark about the move of the Congress government in Punjab. The Bill not only led to an inter-State row between Punjab and Haryana but invited the criticism that the Governor ought not to have given his assent to it without consulting the Centre. Unlike in the case of Khurana and Jois, the Centre appears to have suggested to O.P. Verma to quit to pave the way for a new appointee.

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