Kamla Beniwal was sacked by the Modi government 2 months before she was to complete her term as Governor of Mizoram. She was transferred from Gujarat about a month ago. Modi’s detractors have naturally called it vendetta politics, ignoring the convention of political governors resigning after formation of a new government.
A governor is appointed for a particular tenure by the stamp of the President of India; he/she holds office till, technically, the person enjoys confidence of the head of the state. But it is an honourable practice for political governors to resign with the change of government. This is because most politicians who become governors grace the office by virtue of being a senior member of a political party.
The Supreme Court in 2010 held that governors could be changed only for compelling reasons and not merely because a different political party had come to power. The decision came in response to a petition filed by then BJP MP BP Singhal when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government came to power in 2004.
The BJP was hurt by the loss in 2004 general elections, and it felt bad that political governors Vishnu Kant Shastri, Babu Parmanand, Kailashpati Mishra and Kidarnath Sahni were removed from their gubernatorial assignments respectively in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Goa. It was wrong on the part of the BJP to approach the court then. Even the court seemed to have faulted; it should have clarified that the criterion it set was not applicable to those who were card holders of a political party and owed the post exclusively to their party affiliations. The principle of not removing governors before they complete their terms unless there were ‘compelling reasons’ should apply to professionals who become governors on different grounds. Such a principle cannot be said to hold for politician-governors.
In politics you do not hinge on technicalities but on morality. The political governors appointed by the BJP during the previous NDA (National Democratic Alliance) regime were hardcore RSS ideologues as well. Morality demanded that they should have vacated on their own by submitting their resignations. So was the case for governors appointed by the Congress. By no stretch of imagination Beniwal or Margaret Alva, who is the outgoing Governor of Rajasthan, could be said to be neutral governors.
When Beniwal was transferred to Mizoram, she should have got the indication that she should resign rather than forcing the government to remove her. She was not a neutral governor when in Gujarat. She had a running battle with Narendra Modi who was the chief minister of Gujarat then. The Supreme Court had not expressed its happiness on the stand she had taken on appointment of the lokayukta (ombudsman) there. She had acted as an agent of the Indian National Congress that was in power at the Centre. When the new government came to power at the Centre under Modi, she should have followed the most natural course of offering to resign.
Those who get their posts due to political appointments or closeness to power should know that their tenure ends with the end of the regime. Some people try to continue in their self delusion that they were appointed because of their unquestionable competence. This stands true for all such posts that are nominated, such as chairpersons and members of various commissions, various appointments in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and personal staff of ministers etc.
However, this certainly does not apply to people who were appointed due to their competence even when they were close to a different dispensation. A distinction must be made between party card holders and those considered close to the party. The post of a vice-chancellor of a university or head of a news channel is not a political post even when their continuation depends on the wishes of the incoming government. Normally people wait and make those changes when the tenure of the incumbent comes to an end. But the UPA Government had worked with vengeance when it sacked journalists heading Doordarshan.
Some Congress appointees are still trying to hang on to the job in the hope that they would be able to continue using various pulls are pressures. They would try to catch hold of those in power and try to influence the decision. These are people who survived till now due to co-option. Look around, and you would find many moving around in the corridors of power, hoping they will be able to survive. Since Modi has not acted against them for two months, they must have concluded they have got a leash of another term.
Modi has changed the rule of the game. Close to four dozen people were expecting they would be co-opted by the new government. They did not realise that Modi was bringing in a new culture free from favouritism in which they were not needed. Earlier, the political executives used to change, but the minister’s functioning staff continued to be the same. They thus acquired immense power to influence government decisions.
The Prime Minister dealt a death blow to this by creating a parameter of such appointments. Whether it was a private secretary or an OSD (officer on special duty) or an officer of the rank of deputy director, a definite norm was created. This caused consternation in the political circle since earlier rulers would now find it difficult to influence the ministry through the back door.
Modi’s lesson to all those who are clinging to various posts is clear: Learn to respect yourself. Give way and resign rather than forcing the government to take drastic action. The INC should just stay quiet and fight the battle among the people. Crying foul will not help.