Plagiarised and improved versions of Congress shenanigans, crafted when it enjoyed the status of pan-Indian ruling party, is being now replayed by other political parties across India drawing howls of protests from the grand old political entity. Fortunately, the SC, despite its recently sullied image, rose to the occasion, passed orders to stop ‘murder of democracy’ and wiped the tears off Congress.
The first ‘murder of democracy’ happened when the Jawaharlal Nehru government listened to Congress president Indira Gandhi’s advice and used Kerala Governor to dismiss the first democratically elected Communist government in 1959. The Governor was B Ramakrishna Rao, the first chief minister of Hyderabad. He later became an RS MP.
Since then, political blood from many murders of democracy by arbitrary dismissal of state governments, in active connivance of Governors, has smudged Indian democratic history. The ‘murder of democracy’ and ‘save democracy‘ cries have all remained opportunistic expressions of inability to counter a situation politically.
After the dishevelling of BJP‘s plans, orchestrated through a conniving Governor in Karnataka, to usurp power without the numbers, one of the first congratulatory ‘democracy saved’ messages came from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Alas! She had not reacted when the Supreme Court just a week back expressed anguish over TMC musclemen ensuring no contest in nearly 20,000 seats in West Bengal panchayat elections, marred by bloodshed and violence. May be the brutal ‘murder of democracy’ on the ground was better than the conspiracy hatched by holders of constitutional posts. And, may be murder of grassroot democracy is better than murder of democracy in the assembly!
Governors’ role as the holder of the highest constitutional post in a state has come under scrutiny many a time in the SC. Should their appointment by the Union government make them agents of the Centre or “His Master’s Voice”? Or, are they expected to discharge their duties and constitutional functions independently?
Four decades back in Hargovind Pant judgment [1979 (3) SCC 458], the SC had said that by no stretch of imagination, Governors could be said to be “employee or servant of the Government of India”. It said: “He is not amenable to the directions of the government of India, nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his functions and duties. He is an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the government of India.”
These highly exalting words of the SC interpreting the constitutional position enjoyed by a Governor did little to change the servile mindset of Governors who, by and large, remained blindly true not to the Constitution but to their masters, who had chosen them after decades of unflinching loyalty.
To stem the denigration of the high constitutional office of Governor, the Sarkaria Commission in 1987 recommended that persons chosen for the post must have achieved eminence in some walk of life, must be from outside the state, should be a detached figure not intimately connected to local politics and most importantly, must not have taken great part in politics generally and in the recent past.
It is impossible to locate a Governor, from the political history of India, who embodies all these four qualities. Probably that is the reason why we have witnessed political conspiracies getting scripted in Raj Bhavans immediately after a state election throwing up a fractured mandate.
And that is the reason why the SC’s Friday order directing floor test in Karnataka was identical to the one passed by it in 2005 for Jharkhand [2005 (3) SCC 152] when Governor and former Congress politician Sibtey Razi denied BJP’s Arjun Munda the invitation to for m government despite commanding a clear majority.
Irked by another Congressman-turned Governor Buta Singh denying Nitish Kumar-led coalition an invitation to form government, the SC in Rameshwar Prasad case [2006 (2) SCC 1] had wished that the government and political parties had given importance to the Sarkaria Commission recommendation on eligibility criteria for persons getting appointed as Governors.
It had said: “Unfortunately, the criteria has been observed in almost total breach by all political parties. It is seen that one day a person is in active politics in as much as he holds the office of the Chief Minister or party post and almost on the following day, or in any case, soon thereafter the same person is appointed as the governor in another state with hardly any cooling off period. Ordinarily, it is difficult to expect detachment from party politics from such persons while performing constitutional functions as Governor.”
The SC went on to appeal to the wisdom of political parties and their leaders to discuss and debate and “arrive at, if possible, a national policy and some common minimum parameters applicable acceptable to all major political parties”.
More than a decade has passed since the SC registered this appeal to political parties. Nothing has changed. The loyal party soldiers continue to adorn the Governor’s posts and serve as agents of the political party holding the reins at the Centre. Their active participation in the ‘murder of democracy’ is challenged in the SC from time to time. And the political parties, take turn, to shed crocodile tears for ‘murder of democracy’.