Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Of Fuss & Controversy Unwarranted

Of Fuss & Controversy Unwarranted
One fails to understand the fuss over counsel for NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) Prashant Bhushan being pressed for disclosing the name of the whistleblower who provided him a copy of the entry register maintained at CBI Director Ranjit Sinnha's residence containing the names of persons who met him at his official residence.
To an extent, Prashant Bhushan is right in refusing to divulge the whistleblower's identity in the interest of the latter's personal safety claiming that "it would expose him to serious risks of bodily harm, harassment and victimisation besides setting a bad precedent". Among those who waited upon the CBI Director at his house are very influential and resourceful people who felt as much embarrassed by the disclosures as did the CBI Director. Question naturally arises Why did they prefer Sinha's residence over his office and why did he condescend to entertain them at his residence and not in his office?
Disclosure by such daredevils of information has embarrassed high-ups, landed them in trouble in criminal investigations and some found guilty by courts. There is also no dearth of instances where numerous people who dared to make incriminating information public had to face the wrath of government functionaries and others. Some of them had to lose their right to life even. So their security of life remains of paramount concern.
In these circumstances, what is vital is not the identity of the whistleblower who lifted the veil of secrecy but the veracity of the disclosures.  As long as the facts brought out by them are not disputed, their identity is immaterial. They need to be identified and named the moment they are discovered to have played havoc with facts causing unwarranted hurt to the image of the persons harmed by their disclosures which they knew were not genuine. In such an eventuality, they not only need to be fully exposed but severely punished too.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court on September 22 decided to review its order directing Prashant Bhushan to disclose the identity of the person who provided him the information.
Politics in the country seems to be touching a new low each day. The latest is the instance of the former Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh who whipped up public sentiments on the petty issue of his being asked to vacate his official residence in Delhi after the people of his area rejected him in the June elections to Parliament and he ceased to be a minister. On the one hand he announced that he is going to vacate the official residence and, on the other, he whipped up people's sentiments by organising a violent protest in his area where his supporters even threatened to cut-off water supply to Delhi.
He had been occupying this very house which was the residence of his late father Chaudhary Charan Singh who became prime minister of the country courtesy not a majority in Lok Sabha but of an intrigue hatched by late Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was not fascinated by him to see him a prime minister of the country but smarting at the loss of power and yearning for revenge to overthrow by hook or crook the then Janta Party government headed by  Morarjee Desai. Charan Singh fell into Indira's trap. After parting company with Morarjee and his Janta Party, he was able to be sworn in as PM on July 28, 1979 but had to resign on August 24 when Mrs. Gandhi refused to honour her promise of support. Instead of going to Parliament waiting for him to seek a vote of confidence Chaudhary Charan Singh went to the President to resign. He earned the distinction of being a Prime Minister just for 24 days without having faced the Parliament. Ajit Singh inherited the political legacy of his father by representing the latter's Baghpat parliamentary constituency unhindered. In the process he made history by his party RLD enter into a marriage of convenience with friends and foes alike. Thus he made the proverbial term of "sleeping with the enemy" a reality in his political career. In 2009 Lok Sabha elections his party contested as an NDA constituent but when BJP led NDA failed to make the mark the magnet of power was strong enough to lure Ajit Singh to part company with NDA and land into the Congress lap against whom his party had fought elections.

Ajit Singh's demand to convert the house he was occupying as a memorial  for his late father and former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh was a ploy to retain this house on one pretext or the other. On the vey face of it, his belated demand now looks funny. Charan Singh died on May 29, 1987. In VP Singh's Janta Dal government in 1989 and later in UPA government Ajit Singh was the Industry Minister amd Civil Aviation Minister, respectively. During the last 27 years never did it occur to him that his father deserved a memorial and that too the house he was occupying. No further comment needed.                                                    ***

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Governor's 5-year tenure
 "Subject to" President's "pleasure"

 By Amba Charan Vashishth

It is ironical that the Congress party is today critical of the NDA government move to seek resignations of the Congress-appointed governors — the same Congress which on coming into power in 2004 was quick to remove the NDA appointed governors on the plea that they were not in sync with its ideology. What was right for Congress in 2004 is looking wrong to it in 2014.
The office of governor, we all know, is a legacy of the British raj. It is a different matter if on attaining freedom we adopted it as an institution of the Constitution.  Before independence or after, the role of a governor has not changed a bit. Earlier, he functioned in the State as an agent of the Government at the Centre to promote and protect the interests of the British Crown. Now, he keeps a watchful eye the  concerns of the Union government which, in effect, means the ruling party/alliance commanding  a majority in the  Lok Sabha.
 The mode of selection and appointment of governors before and after independence remains the same. It was pick-and-choose during the British rule and it continues to be the same under the Indian republic. The British had governors whose commitment to the Crown could not be questioned. The alien government never gambled for an Indian as governor even when the latter stood true  to Lord Macaulay's test of their being "Indians in blood and colourbut English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect".  
Deliberately or otherwise, the provision in the Constitution for selection as governor has been made as easy and simple as it could be. Any " citizen of India" having "completed the age of thirty-five years" (Article 157) is qualified to be a governor.  
Till 1962, elections to Parliament and State assemblies were conducted simultaneously and the same party ruled in the State and at the Centre. But things changed in 1967 elections when the phenomenon of alliance governments in some States emerged while Congress continued to rule at the Centre. In later years, with different political parties assuming power in different States and with the advent of the phenomenon of alliance governments at the Centre, conflicts between the governors appointed by a ruling party at the Centre in States ruled by different parties, came to a head.
The feeling that governors were "friends and guides" of the Council of Ministers in a State is a misnomer in the present political reality. Concept of apolitical governors is unreal and unnatural. This post is, perhaps, the only office one cannot get as a matter of right on the strength of merit. It is a pure discretion and favour bestowed on the individual.
Things would have been ideal had a person once appointed a governor renunciated politics for ever to function without fear or favour as a true representative of the Central government free to act in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. But the reality is the opposite.We have numerous instances of governors like Buta Singh, Ram Lal, Romesh Bhandari and S. C. Jamir who transgressed their authority under the Constitution. Their conduct was adversely commented upon by the courts. Some had to quit because of their constitutional misdemeanor.

There are numerous instances where the hermits in Raj Bhawans have renounced their sanyas to occupy the coveted offices of ministers at the Centre and chief ministers in States. One can easily fathom the shallowness of the sense of fairness, impartiality and commitment to uphold the Constitution expected from such people.

That Article 176(3) of the Constitution provides for "a term of five years" for a governor is a clear indication of the intention of the framers of the Constitution to make the term of the governor almost co-terminus with that of the government.. By the time a new government takes  over following a fresh mandate after five years, the governors appointed by the previous regime would more or less be about to complete their tenure. This gave the new government a breathing time to make a free choice to man the Raj Bhawans with persons of their liking.
Problems arise whenever there is change of guards like the one in the last decade in 2004 and now in 2014. The remedy lies in trying to appreciate the spirit of the Constitution which provides for a tenure of five years for the members of the Lok Sabha, State assemblies, President and Vice-President of India. This was obviously done to turn all such appointments co-terminus with that of the new government for its harmonious functioning.   This impression is further fortified by Article 64 providing that the Vice-President would be the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha but did not provide for a term of six years for him as that of members of the Rajya Sabha he/she presides. 

Appointment of governors is purely a political exercise motivated by political considerations. Therefore, it is desirable that governors resign following a change of guards at the Centre.  

A five-year term for a governor is not absolute. Article 156(3) makes it "Subject to the foregoing provisions of this article" where the foregoing Article 156(1) makes his tenure conditional "during the pleasure of the President".  President's "pleasure" cannot be restricted just to his making a governor's appointment and turning him paralytic when it came to withdraw his "pleasure" in the changed scenario emerging out of a fresh mandate to a new government. In such a situation, President's "pleasure" becomes a redundant and laughable provision.
It is not necessary for the President to record and communicate in writing in the letter of appointment to a governor why he/she was singled out for selection. On the same analogy h0w can it be incumbent on the former's part to convey in writing why the "pleasure" was withdrawn.

Also published in the September 2014 issue of the SOUTH ASIA POLITICS magazine.