By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, February 15: Desperate to capture the elusive South Indian States, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that dominates the Centre like a colossus, is using every trick in the book to stymie the functioning of opposition parties’ governments in the South, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 

Tamil and Kerala have been difficult to crack because of their ideological orientation towards secularism. But the never-say-die Modi regime is using the office of the Governor to stymie the functioning of these governments.  

In Kerala, Governor Arif Mohammad Khan had put spokes in the wheel of the Left Front government. In 2022, Khan demanded the resignation of university Vice-Chancellors appointed by the State government on grounds of procedural violations. He had taken umbrage to a statement made by a minister and had asked the Chief Minister to sack him. 

But as per the law, only the CM can decide who will be in his ministry and who will not. 

In Tamil Nadu, on January 9, 2023, Governor R.N.Ravi refused to read parts of his speech written by the DMK government (as per practice) because he objected to the glorification of the “Dravidian Model of Governance”. There is no such model, Ravi contended.  

He also skipped a sentence which said: “Tamil Nadu continues to be a haven of peace and is attracting numerous foreign investments and is becoming a forerunner in all sectors”.

On February 12 this year, Ravi refused to read the entire speech on “moral and factual” grounds. A press release from the Governor said that he had returned the file containing the State government’s draft of his speech advising it to show due respect to the national anthem and play it both at the beginning and the end of his address. 

But in Tamil Nadu, tradition has been to play the “Tamil Thai Vaazhthu” (In praise of Mother Tamil) at the beginning and the National Anthem at the end of State events. 

According to Ravi there should be no place for anything other than the National Anthem at State events. But for the Tamils, “Tamil Thaai Vazhthu” is their State anthem. It seems Ravi is not even a follower of Modi’s “cooperative federalism.” 

Ravi further said that the Governor’s address “should not peddle  misleading statements and venting blatantly partisan political views.”

He told the Assembly: “This address has numerous passages with which I convincingly disagree on factual and moral grounds. Me lending my voice to them could constitute a constitutional travesty.”

Ravi cannot be ignorant of the constitutional norm that the Governor’s opening address to a State Assembly session is but the statement of the State government and that it is his duty to read it. He is supposed to act only on the aid and advice of the elected government. He cannot dictate policy. 

The Governor has no right to describe the contents of his written address as a “travesty of truth” –  that is the job of the opposition parties, not the Governor.

After the Governor walked out, Speaker M. Appavu read out the prepared Tamil version of the address which highlighted the economic growth and societal progress of the Stalin-led government and how it has managed to do that despite the onslaught of multiple disasters over the years.

The written text also observed that the State was facing a revenue shortfall of INR 20,000 crore per year due to the termination of the GST compensation regime. It expressed disappointment that the Union government had “reneged” on its promise to provide its share for phase II of the Chennai Metro Rail project by delaying its approval for the project.

Contending that “unity in diversity” was under “grave threat” in the country, the written speech stressed that the State (Tamil Nadu) vowed to take all necessary measures to prevent the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act in Tamil Nadu (which is said to discriminate against Muslims).  

Sought Change of State’s Name 

Earlier, in a public speech, Ravi had objected to the name “Tamil Nadu” and proposed that it should be substituted by “Tamilaham” (Home of the Tamils) because the term “Tamil Nadu” (Land of the Tamils) according to him smacked of a separate country for the Tamils. 

This contention was widely condemned as he had exposed his lack of knowledge of the Tamil language. 

While being a constitutional head of a State government ruled by an avowedly secular DMK, Ravi had also been lecturing publicly on the need to follow the Hindu religion. He was widely criticised for this.        

In July 2023, Ravi sent out a communication to the Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin, that he had dismissed V. Senthilbalaji, a State Minister without Portfolio, who was in judicial custody in a money laundering case. Ravi had no constitutional right to dismiss a minister. The Governor has no discretion in the matter of appointing and removing ministers, which is the sole prerogative of the Chief Minister. 

The Governor had also withheld ten Bills that had been passed and “re-passed” by the Legislative Assembly. 

“Once they have been re-passed, these Bills are put in the same footing as Money Bills. Then the Governor cannot reject them,” the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud remarked when the case came before his bench.

In the last few years, the Governors of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal have played their roles in such a way as to make them highly controversial, wrote Rakhahari Chatterji, a former advisor to the Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata.

The negative image of the State Governors being agents of the Centre has proved difficult to erase, Chatterji said. 

The present controversies have been around the issues of selecting the Chief Minister, determining the timing for proving legislative majority, demanding information about day-to-day administration, taking a long time to give assent to bills or reserving bills for the consideration of the President, and commenting adversely on the policies of the State government. 

Chatterji points out that the Administrative Reforms Commission of 1968, the Rajamannar Committee of 1969, the Committee of Governors of 1971, the Bangalore Seminar of Experts of 1983 and finally, the Sarkaria Commission of 1988 had all said that the image of the Governor as an agent of the Centre to bring State governments to toe the Centre’s line had harmed the federal structure and destroyed democracy.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the Constitution drafting committee had said: “I have no doubt in my mind that the Governor’s discretionary power is not a general clause giving the Governor power to disregard the advice of his ministers.” 

On the appointment of a Chief Minister, the Sarkaria Commission said that the Governor’s task “is to see that a government is formed and not to try to form a government,” which most Governors are seen to be doing to this day. 

Dr. Ambedkar had made it clear that the Governor has no functions which he can discharge by himself. At best, he can only advice the ministry, warn the ministry, and suggest to the ministry an alternative and ask for reconsideration.

Bommai Case

“The landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai vs. the Union of India (1994) effectively cautioned against the frequent use of Article 356 for dismissing State governments run by opposition parties,” Chatterji said.  

This judgement drastically reduced the incidence of President’s rule from 63 during 1971-1990 to 27 between 1991 and 2010.  

However, Chatterji pointed out that none of the recommendations by the committees and commissions mentioned above had been implemented by any government at the Centre in New Delhi.