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Spat with Governor

Thursday, 15 October 2020 | Pioneer

Koshyari’s letter war with Uddhav Thackeray turns ugly as he goes against the mandate of his post to follow a party line

Gubernatorial assignments have always been politicised regardless of regimes. No matter what the party at the Centre, each has used its chosen Governor to keep a watch on Opposition State Governments and undercut federal powers in the event of a crisis, especially when the Central party, as the main challenger, has been within smelling distance of power. But just because a violation has become a political convention, can one justify its continuity? And by extension does it have to be more flagrant than earlier occasions? It is on this count that Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s letter war with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray over the re-opening of religious places in the State is not only indecorous but challenges the limits of a constitutionally-appointed post. Worse, what could have been a mature confabulation was converted to a media circus as the Governor’s letter was circulated widely. Making a case for re-opening places of worship, Koshyari asked Thackeray if he had “turned secular” by keeping them shut. The latter shot back a letter, asking if Hindutva meant simply opening religious places and as a Governor who had sworn on the Constitution, was he denying the secularism enshrined in it? Clearly, Koshyari, who has been used time and again to embarrass the Shiv Sena-led alliance Government, should have clearly kept the arrow in his quiver. For he unwittingly gave the political advantage to Thackeray by trying to expose the latter’s commitment to Hindutva. Thackeray may have been vociferous about Ayodhya but in COVID-stressed times and as Chief Minister of the worst-affected State, he has managed the festival season with reason. By confining the Ganesh Mahotsav to a largely indoor celebration, he avoided a super spreader event. And although the Governor has questioned the rationale of opening bars and restaurants and not shrines, Thackeray knows that faith is a heave of emotion that defies protocols and he would much rather go in for a graded opening of these places after assessing the risk of spread. Besides, the Governor, given the gravitas associated with his chair, should not have run down the weight of the word “secular” in his official capacity, no matter what his personal belief systems might be. Also using the religion card is unbecoming of a post that demands reason, neutrality, dignity and integrity. But then Koshyari has been too pliant to walk the thin line between propriety and impropriety, nicety and brashness. Let us not forget that he is the same man who had revoked President’s rule in the State in the wee hours and hurriedly sworn in BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis with then rebel Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar, ignoring the split mandate in the State. He did not give adequate time to the Opposition parties and even an adrift Sena for crystallising their adjustments before committing to furnishing letters of support. By that yardstick, the Governor seems immune to the adverse criticism that his overstepping of constitutional limits entails. So long as his political purpose is served, in this case going after the Shiv Sena. This explains why NCP supremo Sharad Pawar wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing shock at the tone and tenor of the Governor’s letter. He even clarified that while he was not against the Governor’s prerogative to discuss matters with the CM, he was against a squabble deliberately played out in the public domain for political gains.

Shaming the regional party, wherever the BJP is the main Opposition, is now more the rule than the exception. In Bengal, Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has been blowing hot on the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress Government at the slightest pretext or the other. The latest spat is over the unnatural death of a BJP MLA and the Governor’s letter to vice-chancellors (VCs) asking them to attend a video-conference with him. The VCs refused to attend unless the invitation was routed through the State higher education department. After this Dhankar took to Twitter to defend his partisan action, saying he could not allow students’ issues to be “politically caged.” His lie was exposed when Banerjee herself revealed all of her Government’s communication with the Raj Bhavan before the media. But at least he had done his bit for the BJP’s “Didi hatao” campaign. All these examples prove there is an internecine plot to erode the spirit of alliance politics in general and the regional ones in particular, making them look like puppets in a shadow play, so powerful that the voter changes his pattern in the next round of elections. The problem with the BJP is that it just can’t get out of the whataboutery trap, countering every criticism by citing Congress precedents and repeating every mistake of its rival party that ultimately cost the latter dear. Then how is BJP the “party with a difference?” If Governors are abdicating their role responsibilities and preferring to be agents of the ruling party, then their use is not even ceremonial. For even that demands a degree of integrity and respect for the norms of parliamentary democracy. They are toothless when they recommend President’s rule as it is the Central Government which runs the State affairs by proxy with its own team of bureaucrats. Isn’t it time then to look at the selection process of the post of Governor itself, provided each party agrees to neutralising it in the first place? The procedure for appointment of the Lokpal could easily be followed to secure the position in a manner that the Governor cannot be recalled or moved at the Centre’s whim. But will all parties agree to amend a convention that suits each one of them when each gets the hot seat?

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