Subsequent governments have degraded the constitutional position. It’s time we stop the humiliation.
Imagine you are holding what you think is a reasonably respectable job. You get a notification from the authorities that:
* You will not leave your state without prior permission.
* Even “in emergent or extraordinary circumstances” when you have to leave your state without “prior permission”, you must give “prior intimation” of your trip.
* The requests for permission to travel outside the state will have to be sent anywhere between one week and six weeks before the date of travel, depending on whether the tour is official or private and the destination is in India or abroad.
* In case of last-minute travel plans, you will have to explain the “compelling reasons” for the trip.
* You must send a copy of every request for travel to two people who are below you in the accepted official standing.
* You will have to send your detailed itinerary for every official visit – domestic or foreign – and keep the authorities posted about any changes so that you and others like you do not pass off private visits as official.
* In case you wish to make a visit outside the country, the communication seeking approval for undertaking such foreign visits should be sent well in time so that these are received at the appropriate office at least six weeks in advance.
* You shall not stay outside your state for more than 73 days or 20% of the days in a calendar year.
The communication hints that such rules are needed because several instances have come to light where many of your colleagues/contemporaries have been abusing their privileges.
Now, if you were holding a job in the lower rungs of the organisation, you would most probably take this kind of a notification in your stride as you know your place in the hierarchy and are used to being given orders and taking them.
But how are you likely to react if you are holding a constitutional position (one which has been created by and in the country’s Constitution); are the Head of the State; are number four in the Warrant of Precedence when you are in your state, behind only the President, the Vice President, and the Prime Minister, and number eight when outside your state?
Irrespective of how you would respond, there have been no reports of any response from any of the worthy incumbents so far. And if past experience is any guide, there is likely to be none.
Could the reason for this lack of response, or reaction, be that there is a kernel of truth in the hints that some of the individuals in the exalted positions of governor have actually been “passing off private visits as official” and have been “abusing their privileges”?
And if that kernel of truth is indeed there, how is it that such people have come to occupy such exalted positions and, more surprising still, how do they continue to be there?
The answers to some of these questions can be found in our history. The devaluation of the office of governor began in 1977. The new government headed by Janata Party Prime Minister Morarji Desai wanted to remove governors appointed by the previous Congress government. At first its attempts were resisted by the then acting President, but the government had its way.
The Congress, then in opposition, decried the practice. But when it came to power in 2004, it did the same. It was now the turn of the then opposition to decry this. The Bharatiya Janata Party insisted on having a discussion in Parliament in which its leading lights such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani called the move a “big blow to democracy” and “dangerous” respectively.
Despite condemning the practice in 2004, the National Democratic Alliance government did the same after coming to power in 2014.
The need for governors, which was clearly felt by the Constituent Assembly, has also been questioned in recent years. The key question now is not whether we need governors or not, but so long as we have them, should they be allowed to exist in peace and with a modicum of respect or is it advisable or necessary to rub their noses in the ground?
I do not think we should get rid of the position of governor. But given this kind of notification, one is constrained to say that abolishing governorships may be a less painful option.
So long as we have them, it seems in extremely poor taste to use expressions, not even innuendoes, such as “passing off private visits as official” and “abusing their privileges” to describe the incumbents.
And if there indeed are such incumbents, the government would be well within its legal and moral right to initiate the process of their removal by building a case for such action and citing reasons for it. Of course, an even better course of action would be to exercise due care in the appointment process to ensure that individuals with such potential do not reach such positions.
So, let us get rid of governors if we have to, but let us not humiliate them so long as we have them.