Controversy over Kerala Governor’s Budget speech underlines need for the office to be non-partisan, and to be seen to be so too
The ruling CPM in Kerala has criticised the state governor, P. Sathasivam, for editing out some references critical of the Centre and the BJP from the text of his Budget address in the Assembly — and the office of governor is the centre of yet another unseemly controversy. By convention (प्रतिज्ञा), the governor reads out the speech, vetted (भली प्रकार जाँच करना) by the Cabinet, in its entirety (संपूर्णता). The CPM has alleged that Sathasivam, a former chief justice of India appointed as governor by the Narendra Modi government, has sought to “appease” (शान्त करना) the Centre, while the state BJP has cited the governor’s “discretionary (स्वनिर्णयगत) powers”. It is true that in the constitutional scheme, the governor can use his high office and the space for judgement and discretion that comes with it, to guard the letter and spirit of the constitution. But that is not what appears to have informed the Kerala governor’s selective reading of the Budget speech on Monday.
Of course, Sathasivam is not the first governor to invite accusations (दोषारोपण) of partisan (समर्थक) conduct favouring the ruling dispensation at the Centre. Indeed, it was in Kerala that the office of the governor first came under a cloud when, in 1959, then governor, B. Ramakrishna Rao, following a mass agitation led by the Congress, recommended that the CPI government, which enjoyed a majority in the assembly, be dismissed. Successive Congress governments at the Centre damaged the dignity (प्रतिष्ठा) and credibility (विश्वसनीयता) of the office in the 1960s and ’70s by appointing pliant (आसानी से वश में आने वाला) party functionaries as governors to unsettle or topple (गिरा देना) opposition-ruled governments. The Sarkaria Commission, appointed in 1983 to study Centre-State relations, severely criticised the functioning of the governor and proposed a set of guidelines to restore the office’s reputation. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution appointed by the Vajpayee government in 2000 and the Punchhi Commission set up by the UPA in 2007 echoed Justice Sarkaria’s suggestions. However, all political parties in power have wilfully ignored the recommendations.
The BJP has long been an advocate of federalism (संघ का अनुमोदन करना) and, as a party of the Opposition, it has spoken fervently (उत्साह से) of the independence of the governor’s office. But its record in government has been scarcely different from that of the Congress. Since 2014, the Narendra Modi government has replaced 26 governors and seven lieutenant governors with its own candidates, many of them directly affiliated to it — former Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, sworn in as MP governor, has just joined a lengthening list. Governors in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Meghalaya have acted in ways that have been seen to be unbecoming of their office, with governments being formed and chief ministers removed under dubious (संदेहात्मक) circumstances. At a time when a perception of institutional decline is gaining ground, the Sathasivam controversy is a warning and a reminder that the integrity (अखंडता) of this constitutional office will be damaged at the system’s peril.
- Convention: Behaviour that is considered acceptable or polite to most members of a society.
Synonyms: custom, usage, practice, tradition, way, habit, norm
- Vetted: Make a careful and critical examination of (something)
Synonyms: screen, assess, evaluate, appraise, weigh up, examine, look over, review, consider, scrutinize, study, inspect
- Entirety: The whole of something.
Synonyms: whole, sum, total, aggregate, totality, gross, sum total, grand total
Antonyms: imperfection, imperfectness, incompleteness, unsoundness
- Appease: to lessen the anger or agitation of
Synonyms: pacify, assuage, conciliate, disarm, gentle, mollify, placate, propitiate
Antonyms: anger, enrage, incense, inflame (also enflame), infuriate, ire, madden, outrage
- Discretionary: subject to one’s freedom of choice
Synonyms: optional, elective, voluntary
Antonyms: compulsory, mandatory, nonelective, nonvoluntary, obligatory, required
- Accusations: A charge or claim that someone has done something illegal or wrong.
Synonyms: allegation, charge, claim, assertion, asseveration, attribution, incrimination, imputation, denouncement, indictment, arraignment, citation, inculpation, blame, condemnation, criticism, complaint
- Partisan: A strong supporter of a party, cause, or person.
Synonyms: supporter, follower, adherent, devotee, champion, backer, upholder, promoter, fanatic, fan, enthusiast, stalwart, zealot, disciple, votary
- Dignity: The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.
Synonyms: high rank, high standing, high station, status, elevation, eminence, honour, glory, greatness, importance, prominence, prestige
Antonyms: subordinateness, subordination, baseness, commonness, inferiority, lowliness, lowness
- Credibility: The quality of being trusted and believed in.
Synonyms: trustworthiness, reliability, dependability, integrity, character
- Pliant: Easily influenced or directed; yielding.
Synonyms: compliant, biddable, docile, tractable, yielding, malleable, manageable, governable, controllable, amenable, accommodating, susceptible, suggestible, easily influenced, influenceable, persuadable, manipulable, like putty in one’s hands, responsive, receptive
Antonyms: inflexible, rigid, stiff, stiffened
- Topple: Overbalance or cause to overbalance and fall.
Synonyms: fall, tumble, overturn, overbalance, tip, keel, drop, pitch, plunge, capsize, collapse, founder, plummet, dive, lose one’s balance, go head over heels
Antonyms: get up, rise, stand (up), uprise
- Federalism: The federal principle or system of government.
- Fervently: Very enthusiastically or passionately.
Synonyms: ardent, blazing, burning, charged, demonstrative, emotional, fervid, feverish, fiery, flaming, glowing, hot-blooded, impassioned, incandescent, intense, passional, passionate, perfervid, red-hot, religious, superheated, torrid, vehement, warm, warm-blooded
Antonyms: cold, cool, dispassionate, emotionless, impassive, unemotional
- Dubious: Morally suspect.
Synonyms: suspicious, suspect, under suspicion, untrustworthy, unreliable, undependable, questionable
Antonyms: certain, hands-down, incontestable, indisputable, indubitable, questionless, sure, undeniable, undoubted, unproblematic, unquestionable
- Integrity: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
Synonyms: honesty, uprightness, probity, rectitude, honour, honourableness, upstandingness, good character, principle, principles, ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, nobility, high-mindedness, right-mindedness, noble-mindedness, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness
Antonyms: badness, evil, evildoing, immorality, iniquity, sin, villainy, wickedness, debauchery, degeneracy, degradation, depravity, perversion, pervertedness, sinfulness