The brazen partisanship of the Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj and the unconstitutional and perverse firmans that he has been issuing to Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and the Speaker of the Assembly has once again revived the debate on whether we should continue with this anachronistic office that is often occupied by persons whose primary loyalty is not to the Constitution of India but to some political entity or family.
Mr Bhardwaj may have been right in asking the Chief Minister to prove his majority when some legislators announced withdrawal of support to the Government. However, he had no business to issue a diktat to the Speaker of the Assembly, who holds an independent constitutional office, on the qualification or disqualification of members.
The tone of Mr Bhardwaj's letter to the Speaker smacked of arrogance and gross constitutional impropriety. Luckily, the Speaker gave the Governor a fitting reply and redeemed the dignity of his office. But the drama did not end there, because the Governor rejected the vote on the first motion of confidence as a "farce" and recommended the imposition of President's Rule on the State.
All this is not to say that the Speaker's decision to disqualify the 11 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and five Independent MLAs is unassailable. The matter is before the Karnataka High Court and much will depend on the court's view on the disqualifications. All that can be said at this stage is that the ruling BJP will have a tough time in establishing the bona fides of the action against the Independent MLAs.
Coming back to the Governor, it must be said that no person who is acquainted with the Constitution and the law in this area, specially after the Supreme Court's verdict in the Bommai case, would ever recommend President's rule with such haste and on such flimsy grounds.
However, the Union Government obviously has a better sense of the Constitution in the post-Bommai phase and nudged the Governor to make amends. This made the Governor eat his words and ask the Chief Minister to face a fresh trust vote on October 14. If only there were a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games for gubernatorial somersaulting, Mr Bhardwaj would have bagged it.
The unethical and unconstitutional conduct of Governors has been a recurring problem ever since we adopted the Constitution 60 years ago and, going by available evidence, the Congress must take a big share of the blame for appointing Governors who act as agents and spies of the party and turn Raj Bhavans into dens of political intrigue.
That persons of "character, calibre and experience" were not chosen for this office even when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister became evident when the Administrative Reforms Commission examined this issue between 1967 and 1969, when the Congress ruled at the national level and in most of the States. The ARC said there was "a widespread feeling" that some Governors were appointed on considerations extraneous to merit and that they were not able "to rise above party prejudices and predilections".
Thereafter, the most exhaustive and meaningful examination of the role of Governors in the country was done by the Sarkaria Commission, which examined the relations between the Union Government and the State Governments and submitted its report in 1987. It said the prevailing opinion was that Governors "came to regard themselves as agents of the Union Government" and they "failed to display the qualities of impartiality and sagacity expected of them". The Sarkaria Commission also, like the ARC, did an audit of the calibre of Governors.
The results were far from encouraging. The Sarkaria Commission said its survey of the appointments of Governors since independence till October 1984 revealed that persons who were "eminent in some walk of life" constituted less than 50 per cent of the appointees. This percentage of "eminent persons" among Governors, however, showed a "steep fall" after 1980.
This is a very significant observation made by the Sarkaria Commission because Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980 and packed the Raj Bhavans with sycophants, some of whom like Mr Ram Lal in the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan were even willing to participate in a coup against NT Rama Rao, who had won a thumping majority in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly election in 1983.
If we reflect on the calibre, political background and the conduct of Mr Bhardwaj, we begin to wonder whether Justice Sarkaria had somebody like him in mind when he wrote the commssion's report. The commission said that the burden of the complaints against Governors was that they "promote the interests of the ruling party" in New Delhi, particularly if the Governor "was earlier in active politics".
In response to the commission's questionnaire, respondents said "discarded and disgruntled politicians from the party in power in the Union (Government), who cannot be accommodated elsewhere, get appointed". Such persons, while in office, tend to function as agents of the Union Government.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, which was headed by one of India's most eminent judges, Justice MN Venkatachaliah, endorsed the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations and said a Governor "should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past".
Those acquainted with Mr Bhardwaj's legal and political background are aware that he has rendered yeoman's service — as the hackneyed phrase goes — to the Nehru-Gandhis since the Emergency days. In recent years, he has displayed extraordinary enterprise and unwavering loyalty to Ms Sonia Gandhi by working through the legal maze and ensuring that the case against Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused of taking a huge commission in the Bofors field gun deal, was quashed. He also ensured that the Government of India withdrew its demand for freezing Quattrocchi's bank account in the UK, thus enabling the Italian businessman to pocket $ 7.3 million which he had received as payola from Bofors. As past commissions have reported, since independence the Congress has always chosen persons who remain loyal not to the Constitution or the people but to the Nehru-Gandhi family as Governors.
If we do not want Raj Bhavans to become extensions of 10 Janpath, we must press for a bipartisan approach to the selection of Governors or for scrapping the office of Governor altogether. This may not be the ultimate panacea, but if we do not want more Bhardwajs in our Raj Bhavans, we must begin somewhere.