Months after being appointed by India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the governors of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two politically important states, are out to prove their loyalty to the right-wing party.

In Bihar, the Janata Dal-United, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and the Communist Party of India, which together have a clear majority in the assembly, have criticised governor Keshari Nath Tripathi for playing into the hands of the BJP by precipitating a political crisis in order to justify imposing president’s rule.

The BJP has responded by saying these parties are casting baseless aspersions on the state's highest constitutional office. But ever since the rift between the JD(U) head Nitish Kumar and his party's chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi deepened, some of Tripathi's actions have lent credence to the allegations made by the JD(U) and its supporters. Most glaring is Tripathi’s granting approval to a series of state cabinet decisions when it is yet to be seen whether the chief minister enjoys the assembly's confidence. These decisions include bringing Paswans, a caste grouping, under the umbrella of Mahadalits, the poorest among Dalits, and creating a quota for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in government contracts.

Not only has the JD(U) expelled Manjhi from the party, but even the BJP is yet to formally announce its support to him. On the other hand, Nitish Kumar has already presented 130 state legislators, more than the required number, to both the governor and the president.

Constitutional demands

Article 163 of the constitution says that the governor must act on the advice of the council of ministers except when the constitution requires that he use his discretion. Article 163 is tempered by Article 164 (2), which makes the council of ministers responsible to the legislative assembly. Tripathi’s approving decisions made by the council of ministers when it remains unclear whether Manjhi enjoys the confidence of the assembly indicates that he has overstepped his constitutional mandate.

That the Manjhi cabinet’s decisions are meant to erode the JD(U)’s Mahadalit vote base can hardly be debated. The very term Mahadalit loses its meaning if it is broadened to include every Dalit caste. Setting aside a quota in government contracts for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes also does not make sense because it will help these groups only when there is a tie, namely when two or more bids are of the same value, something that rarely happens in confidential bidding.

Moreover, Tripathi scheduled the trust vote in the assembly for February 20, almost two weeks after crisis erupted in the state, making Nitish Kumar’s allegation that this delay "will provide an opportunity for horse-trading" sound reasonable. It is a decision that suits the BJP.

'Swayamsevak' governor

In Uttar Pradesh, the manner in which Governor Ram Naik has been carrying out his responsibilities has raised eyebrows. The Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati criticised him just this Sunday for starting a new practice of holding press conferences at the Raj Bhavan.

In October, soon after being appointed to the post, Naik declared that he still remained a "swayamsevak", referring to the BJP-affiliated Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, even though he had quit the party's primary membership just before taking oath.

Naik and his counterpart in Bihar have therefore provided ample cause for people to wonder whether they are as politically impartial as the constitution expects them to be.