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Their Master’s Voice: Vala joins long list of governors who toed the Delhi political line

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Since 1957, several governors have taken decisions guided by the central government instead of the rulebook. A look at history throws up many controversial names.

New Delhi: Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala is in the eye of a political storm for his allegedly partisan role in installing a BJP government in the state. But when it comes to the controversial use of the governor’s powers, Vala has many illustrious predecessors in many Raj Bhawans.

When she was the governor of Uttar Pradesh, Sarojini Naidu had summed up the limited functions of her office by describing herself as “a bird in a golden cage”. But the way many governors have acted in subsequent years and decades, they may be aptly described as “caged parrots”— a term originally used for the federal investigation agency, the CBI — for their subservience to the powers that be.

Here is a list of governors who stoked controversies in the past by their acts of omissions and commissions:

B. Ramakrishna Rao

He was the first governor to be credited with the dismissal of an elected government. In April 1957, Communist Party of India (CPI) formed the first elected government in Kerala with E.M.S. Namboodiripad as the chief minister. It got into trouble soon as the opposition parties united to oppose its two proposed bills — one to fix a cap on landownership to 15 acres of double crop land and another related to education.

Soon violence broke out in several parts of the state as protestors hit the streets. The then Congress president Indira Gandhi convinced her father and then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to dismiss the government. Nehru asked for a report from Ramakrishna Rao on the law and order situation. It would have taken a day for the report to reach Delhi by air-services but the Centre wouldn’t wait that long. An Intelligence Bureau officer was asked to get the report by a plane in Madras and read it out over phone. It was the first instance when Article 356 of the India Constitution was used to dismiss a state government.

Dharam Vira & Shanti Swaroop Dhawan

In West Bengal, a group of MLAs withdrew support from the United Front government in November 1967. Then governor Dharma Vira dismissed the Ajoy Mukherjee government without giving him a chance to prove majority in the assembly. P.C. Ghose became the new chief minister in a Congress-supported government.

The second United Front Government was formed in 1969 with Ajay Ghosh of Bangla Congress as the chief minister. In March 1970, Ajay Ghosh resigned and then CPM leader Jyoti Basu staked claim to form the government, assuring the governor he would prove his majority in the house. Then governor Shanti Swaroop Dhawan imposed president’s rule, instead.

Ram Lal

In January 1983, N.T. Rama Rao became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, a first non-Congressman to do so. In July 1984, NTR went to the US to undergo coronary bypass surgery., While NTR was away, his finance minister N. Bhaskara Rao broke the party and staked claim to form the government in the state. Despite Rao lacking the requisite numbers, Ram Lal, the governor, administered oath to Rao and granted him time to prove his majority. NTR returned from the US in September and started his yatra on a Chaitanya Ratham. Ram Lal was subsequently replaced with Shankar Dayal Sharma who reinstated NTR.

Krishna Pal Singh

In September 1996, the 18-month old BJP government in Gujarat faced a crisis when 41 BJP legislatures went against the party under the leadership of Shankarsinh Vaghela. BJP had 121 MLAs in 182-member assembly. Post-defection, governor Krishna Pal Singh ordered chief minister Suresh Mehta to prove his majority in the house. On 20 September, just before the voting took place, there were violent clashes among MLAs in the assembly. All opposition MLAs, including BJP defectors, were evicted from the house. The government proved its majority. However, the governor sent a report to then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, recommending the imposition of president’s rule. Gowda swiftly accepted the recommendation. Vajubhai Vala, the Karnataka governor today, was the Gujarat BJP chief then.

Romesh Bhandari

His is arguably the darkest chapter in the annals of gubernatorial misadventures. Bhandari was the governor of Uttar Pradesh in October 1997 when the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) withdrew support from the Kalyan Singh government. He immediately sent a report to Delhi, recommending the imposition of president’s rule but the United Front government at the Centre led by I.K. Gujaral rejected the governor’s report. Bhandari then gave Kalyan Singh 36 hours to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly, which the latter did by breaking the Congress and the BSP.

Barely four months later, in February 1998, Bhandari got another opportunity when the Loktantrik Congress and Janata Dal (Pandey) MLAs withdrew support from the Kalyan Singh government. The chief minister sought time to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly, contesting that many Loktantrik Congress MLAs still supported him. Bhandari, however, dismissed the government and administered the oath of office of the chief minister to Jagdambika Pal — Loktantrik Party leader who was transport minister in Kalyan Singh government — the same evening.

The governor’s decision created a furore, with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee going on a fast-unto-death to force reversal of the governor’s decision. Kalyan Singh filed a petition in the Allahabad high court, which declared Pal’s appointment null and void and asked the Kalyan Singh government to take a floor test, which it successfully did. Bhandari had apparently gone by the verbal commitment by the SP and the BSP to support Pal.

H.R. Bhardwaj

In October 2010, the B.S. Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka faced a sudden crisis when 16 MLAs including 11 from the BJP announced they were withdrawing support from his government. Just before the floor test, the speaker of Karnataka assembly disqualified the rebel MLAs and banned their entry into the house. Yeddyurappa proved his majority by a voice vote. But then governor Bhardwaj sent a report to the centre recommending president’s rule in the state questioning the manner in which the majority was proved in the house. The centre didn’t pay heed to his recommendation. A year later, the disqualification of MLAs was quashed by the Supreme Court and once again Bhardwaj recommended the dismissal of the government. It was rejected again by the UPA government.

Buta Singh

The Bihar assembly elections in February 2005 resulted in a fractured mandate and no party was in a position to form the government. RJD emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats but that was far away from the majority mark in the 243-member assembly. At that time, the assembly was not dissolved and president’s rule was imposed in the state.

In April, the NDA, an alliance of JD(U) and BJP, claimed that they had the support of 115 MLAs and they should be allowed to form the government. Governor Buta Singh, however, wrote to the Centre accusing NDA of horse-trading MLAs and recommended dissolving the assembly without giving the NDA faction a chance. On 22 May, the Union cabinet sat at midnight and approved Buta Singh’s recommendation to dissolve the assembly. The report was faxed to then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was in Moscow and he approved the recommendation from there. Elections were held and the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government came to power in Bihar. However, the matter reached the Supreme Court which used strong words against the Bihar governor. The court said that the actions of Bihar governor reeked of malafide intentions.

Syed Sibte Razi

In March 2005, after the Jharkhand assembly elections, NDA had the support of 41 MLAs including five independents in the 80-member assembly and staked claim to form the government. However, governor Syed Sibte Razi invited Shibu Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to form the government. The matter went to the Supreme Court and it ordered Soren to prove his majority within two days. Soren failed to do so and later Arjun Munda of the BJP became the chief minister and subsequently proved his majority in the house.

K.K. Paul

In March 2016, there was a rebellion in the Congress government in Uttarakhand. When chief minister Harish Rawat presented the finance bill for voting in the assembly, nine Congress MLAs along with 26 BJP MLAs stood against it. But the bill was passed by voice vote. Later the rebel MLAs went to meet the governor demanding a trust vote for Rawat’s government claiming it has lost the majority in the house. The nine Congress MLAs were later disqualified by the speaker. A week later, governor K.K. Paul sent a report to the union government recommending president’s rule in the state which was accepted by the centre. The Union cabinet approved president’s rule on 27 March and it was signed by the President under Article 356. Later, the Uttarakhand high court quashed president’s rule imposed by the Centre. The matter went to Supreme Court which stayed the high court order and asked the Harish Rawat government to prove its majority in a floor test with secret ballot under SC’s observation. Finally, Rawat proved his majority and remained the chief minister.

Mridula Sinha

In March 2017, after the assembly elections in Goa, no party got a majority in the 40-member house. Congress with 17 MLAs was the single largest party and it was certain to get a call from the governor to form the government. However, governor Mridula Sinha went with a new coalition under the BJP which had the support of 21 MLAs and invited Manohar Parrikar to form the government. The matter again went to the Supreme Court and the apex court allowed the swearing-in ceremony and ordered the BJP to prove its majority in a floor test. It also asked Congress why it didn’t stake claim to form the government.

Najma Heptulla

A similar situation came up in Manipur in March 2017, when no party got the majority. Governor Najma Heptulla invited the BJP to form the government which presented a letter of support from other parties.

Ganga Prasad

In March this year, Congress for the third time in two years, couldn’t form a government in Meghalaya despite being the single largest party. Governor Ganga Prasad invited the BJP-backed coalition to form the government.

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