OPN R N Ravi
The relationship between the Governor of Tamil Nadu, R.N. Ravi, and the M.K. Stalin-led State government has been far from harmonious since Ravi assumed office nearly two years ago Image Credit: ANI

Amicable relations between Raj Bhavan and an opposition ruled government in a state are as much a given as India winning an ICC cricket event.

A search for anything but acrimony - latent or overt - will need a deep dive into political archives. Despite low standards, the act of Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi to sack a minister without recommendation or consultation with Chief Minister M K Stalin is unprecedented.

V Senthil Balaji, stripped off his portfolio after being arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in an alleged cash- for-jobs scam that dates to 2014 was sacked peremptorily from the cabinet by the Governor in a unilateral decision that smells of anything but a noble cause.

Barely hours later the dismissal was put in abeyance reportedly, on orders from the Home Ministry to avoid a constitutional fracas. It has not mollified the DMK which has called for the sacking of the Governor.

OPN V Senthil Balaji
Minister V Senthil Balaji was stripped off his portfolio after being arrested by the Enforcement Directorate

Gubernatorial overreach

Ravi is on the backfoot, not just because of the call from Amit Shah’s office, experts are unanimous of the gubernatorial overreach in the latest of a long line of controversies surrounding the Governor since he took office almost two years ago.

Legal analysts remind him that India follows a parliamentary system and not a presidential one, in other words, as per the constitution a governor- a centre appointment- shall take the chief minister’s advice in appointment and dismissal of ministers.

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Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has in the past written to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that the state finance minister had ceased to “enjoy the pleasure of the governor’s office.” Unlike Ravi, he recommended the dismissal which was rejected.

Raj Bhavan can sack a state government that has lost majority but is unwilling to resign, this though is the only instance where its action is unquestionable. Even this power was misused by former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari who was called out by the Supreme Court for his role in a political tussle that saw the removal of the Uddhav Thackeray government.

The top court called Koshiyari’s act of calling a floor test against Thackeray illegal and in a clearly worded statement said, “the governor was not empowered to enter the political arena and play a role,” adding, “governor is the titular head of the state government and a constitutional functionary who derives his authority from the Constitution.”

Core issue of corruption

Ravi’s actions not only fall foul of the constitution but have also taken away from the core issue of corruption that could have put the DMK on the backfoot.

This is not the first time though that the Governor has waded into controversy, earlier he had refused to read out portions of a speech of the government in the Tamil Nadu assembly, when questioned by the Chief Minister he walked out without waiting for the national anthem. Some of his proposals haven’t gone down well even within the BJP state cadre.

Ravi though is not the only Governor in recent times who has supplanted his ceremonial role into a more dubious one with decisions that raise questions on attempts to destabilise an elected government. In a first of its kind, in AAP ruled Punjab, Governor Banwarilal Purohit refused to convene the budget session of the state assembly forcing the Mann government to move the Supreme Court.

In April 2021, The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Amendment Act was implemented making the Lt Governor of Delhi the dominant governing force despite an elected government.

Since then, there is a face-off almost every other month between the Lt Governor V K Saxena and the AAP government, the latest confrontation is over the appointment of Delhi’s power regulator chief.

Boundaries for governor

In May the Supreme Court ruled that Delhi’s bureaucrats came under the elected government’s control while restricting the Lt Governor’s scope of administration. Soon after the centre brought an ordinance to reverse the order. Saxena has now sacked 400 ‘specialists’ appointed by the state government laying the ground for a fresh conflict.

There have been several instances in the past when the Supreme Court through various judgements has interpreted and set boundaries for the post of governor in the country. But whether it is politically weaponised or power lust, the office with its lack of accountability is no longer a titular one.

As the Governor of Tamil Nadu in 1990, Surjit Singh Barnala refused centre’s recommendation to dismiss the Karunandhi government and impose President’s rule. He was transferred.

This defiance is not something we are likely to see anytime soon. The misuse of the post has been rampant in the last nine years and as Ravi has shown, on many occasions, at the cost of constitutional propriety.

India has a new Parliament, the majestic Rajpath has been renamed, textbooks are being sanitised, all moves ostensibly to come out of our colonial past.

Why then does the post of governor, a dubious legacy of the British era still flourish?