The role of the then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari in the developments that led to the collapse of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government last year has come under judicial scrutiny, with the Supreme Court asserting that the Governor ‘cannot lend his office to effectuate a particular result’. A five-judge Constitution Bench has questioned whether mere difference of opinion among MLAs within a party can be a sufficient ground for the Governor to call for a floor test. Sounding a cautionary note, the court has said it’s a very dangerous trend for democracy when Governors become partisans and end up toppling an elected government. The Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena has demanded that the court should set aside the Governor’s June 2022 order regarding the floor test.
The situation in Maharashtra spun out of control when the Governor told the then CM Uddhav Thackeray to face a floor test, mainly on the basis of a letter submitted by 34 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs. An intra-party issue was blown out of proportion to give the misleading impression that the coalition government was on shaky ground. This overzealousness and overreach undermined the constitutional office of the Governor.
Governors have been in the news mostly for the wrong reasons in states where the ruling party is different from the one in power at the Centre. It’s not uncommon for some of them to be accused of partisanship by the Chief Ministers concerned. Governors served as low-profile, uncontroversial functionaries during the first two decades after Independence because the Congress was in the saddle at the Centre as well as in most of the legislative assemblies. Things changed in the late 1960s as the Congress lost power in many states and some Governors began crossing the red line to settle political scores and destabilise governments. As Centre-state disputes intensified, so did gubernatorial intervention and interference. The two successive terms of the BJP-led NDA government have witnessed the unwelcome return of ‘Governor Raj’. This does not bode well for our democratic polity and Centre-state relations. It is imperative for Governors to be apolitical and always remember their primary responsibility — to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law.
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