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What use Governors? Well, they can push state’s interests...

POSTED ON 2 SEPTEMBER 2016

wasbir hussain
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CDPS

Two new Governors have been appointed in the Northeast this fortnight. Mr Banwarilal Purohit, a former MP (Congress and later BJP) from Maharashtra, has taken over as the new Governor of Assam, while veteran politician Najma Heptulla (BJP, but earlier Congress), who has just relinquished her charge as a Union Minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, is the new Governor of Manipur. While Mr Purohit has come to occupy the Raj Bhawan in Guwahati at a relatively comfortable time because the new BJP-led Government in Assam is barely a hundred days old, Ms Heptullah has to see through the Manipur Assembly polls, due next year. Besides, Ms Heptullah arrived in Imphal only days after her predecessor V. Shanmuganathan displayed his poor sense of ‘humour’ by offering coffee at the Raj Bhavan and a cash reward to cultural personalities who describe culture best, and, that too, in 100 words!

One can genuinely ask the question as to whether Governors are of any use today in a country where parliamentary democracy is getting stronger and more vibrant. After all, isn’t the institution of the Governor a hangover of India’s colonial past? Again, why do Governors always have to belong, or at least owe allegiance, to the party in power at the Centre? Does it mean the institution of the Governor has been reduced over the years to one that has to manipulate things in favour of the party in power in Delhi and install or facilitate the holding on to power of that party in the state where the concerned Governor is posted? There may not be any written brief for a Governor, but sadly, it has become almost a custom for a Governor to push the interest of the party he or she is affiliated to.

But, viewed positively, a Governor can certainly push the interest of the state where he or she is posted by playing the role of a bridge between the state and the Centre. In fact, Governors in the Northeast are actually required to play such a role in national interest. Till recently, there was this tradition of only appointing former Army generals or a top security official as Governor in states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland etc. Even Assam had two former Army generals as Governor. Such things gives an impression as if the Centre does not have much of a faith in the capability of the elected governments in these states to maintain internal law and order and thereby ensure national security. In fact, those states where Governors behaved as parallel centres of power had faced political turmoil mainly because they had acted in a way that favours the party they are affiliated with.

What can Governors do to boost the interest of the Northeast, for instance, a region that lie in the nation’s periphery? They can actually do a lot. They can be ambassadors of the state concerned, lend their weight behind the chief minister and his or her government, liaise with the civil society to bring them on board to help implement major policy decisions, and things like that. In fact, Governors are expected to act as elder statesmen and help the state government in taking the state to all round progress rather than creating obstacle if the state is run by a party the governor is not affiliated to.

Governors, in fact, can also help change people’s perception, particularly in the northeastern states, about the ‘mainstream’. Ms Najma Heptulla, for instance, struck a chord with the people in Manipur from Day 1 by saying she would do her best to propagate Manipur’s rich culture outside. This, after her predecessor humiliated the state’s cultural icons by asking them to compete with a 100-word write-up on culture to be able to have coffee at the Raj Bhawan. The bottom-line is that the office of the Governor can perhaps be done away with, but if it is to continue, the occupants of this office must play a positive role in nation-building by pushing the interest of the state’s concerned rather than engaging in manipulative back-room politics as we had recently witnessed in Arunachal Pradesh. (courtesy: The Sentinel)