History revisited

Why does Tamil Nadu's unelected governor have the power to select a CM? Blame the British Raj

As allegations of the political role played by Governor Rao emerge, a look at the historical process that created the post of a powerful governor

Continuing the rollercoaster that Tamil politics has been for the past six months, the Supreme Court delivered another twist on Tuesday, convicting VK Sasikala in a disproportionate assets case. Sasikala is now legally debarred from standing for elections for the next decade. As a result, her bid to become chief minister, backed by the support of more than 120 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam legislators, has failed.

One of the offices that has been constantly been in the spotlight during this episode is that of the governor. Even before Sasikala had been convicted, Tamil Nadu governor C Vidyasagar Rao had refused to administer her the oath of office, reportedly citing the imminent verdict. This was an unprecedented step given that there was little doubt that Sasikala had the support of enough legislators in the Tamil Nadu Assembly to form the government. In a parliamentary system of democracy, how could an unelected governor overrule an explicit order of support from an elected assembly?

That the court eventually held Sasikala guilty does not in any way deflect attention from the governor’s rather unusual role in this drama. If chief ministers were held to be unfit for office by unelected governors every time a legal case cropped up, many governments would have to vacate office – which is clearly not the case. Jayalalitha herself occupied the post of chief minister rather comfortably, while being an accused in this very same disproportionate assets case.

It does not help matters that the Bharatiya Janata Party is seen to not like Sasikala, preferring the more pliant O Panneerselvam instead. Given that the governor serves at the pleasure of the BJP-controlled Union government, accusations of a political element to the governor’s move are rife.

This is not the first time a state governor is being accused of playing a political role, proving yet more evidence to disprove the comforting but Pollyannaish assertion that the governor is a constitutional figurehead. In no other federal system of government does this uniquely Indian figure of the governor exist – an emissary from the federal government to keep a stern, paternal watch on the provincial administration. If this strikes one as slightly undemocratic, it is – the post traces its origins directly to the British Raj.

Government of India Act 1935

The current Indian concept of a state governor starts in the 1930s, as the British were looking to give Indians a greater role in governance. The Raj was never based on outright force and involved a great measure of cooperation from Indian elites. This Raj-Indian cooperation was taken to the next level with a new constitution for British India, called the Government of India Act 1935, which transferred provincial governments almost completely to Indian hands. As they left the provinces in Indian hands, the British performed a retreat to the centre, maintaining control of the government in New Delhi.

This retreat, though, was simply tactical. The British had little belief in democratic rule and planned to retain sufficient control over the provinces via New Delhi. How was this done? Enter the provincial governor.

Although provincial governments were to be elected democratically, at the top of this edifice would sit the governor nominated by the British Raj in New Delhi. This governor would have some unusual powers, most notably the ability to dismiss the provincial government under section 93 of the Government of India Act 1935, if he felt that there had been a constitutional breakdown.

The first election under the new act was held in 1937. The Congress did rather well, winning strong mandates in Central Provinces, United Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, Bombay and Madras. Almost immediately after the election, the Congress started to protest the role of a powerful governor provided under the new act. The Congress was indignant – and rightly so – that an unelected bureaucrat would have the power to dismiss their elected governments. In the end, the Congress, pushed on by its right wing, took office without any concession from the British, who refused to decrease the powers of the governor.

Post 1947

The real U-turn came, though, post 1947. While the Congress had disliked the Government of India Act 1935 from its position as a provincial power, it had a significant change of heart once it controlled the Centre. In fact, the Congress-controlled Constituent Assembly retained the core of the Government of India Act 1935 in the new republican Constitution. So much so that a Constituent Assembly member, Algu Rai Shastri had this to say to the House on August 20, 1949, three months before the Constitution was finalised:

“It is, therefore, not proper for us to follow the Government of India Act, 1935, or take it as a Bible. But we find today that it is now actually being followed as a Bible.”

The most egregious feature of the GoI 1935 act that was retained was the expanded role of the governor to oversee the states. While the entire Congress had gone hammer and tongs against this undemocratic post in British India, the party changed its mind after transfer of power. Section 93 – which allows the governor to dismiss state governments – today exists in the Indian constitution as section 356 and is called President’s Rule.

In an unusually bitter Constituent Assembly debate, Biswanath Das, the former prime minister of Orissa – as the post of chief minister was called pre-1947 – attacked the Congress high command for pushing the undemocratic post of nominated governor, as described in the Government of Indian Act 1935, into the new republican constitution. Calling this a form of “autocracy”, Das claimed that, “You cannot have democracy and autocracy functioning together. In the provinces you are going to have democracy from toe to neck and autocracy at the head”.

He went on to argue that the governor was being vested with too much power ­– which would naturally result in him interfering in the political process. Das claimed – with good reason – that the governor was always out to break his party while he held the post of the Orissa prime minister from 1937 to 1939.

“I claim, that the new set-up, unless this House proposes to change the new set-up, invest the Governors with definite and important powers. The powers are the ordinances, powers, of course, in a modified way which you have under the Government of India act of 1935, to return Bills for consideration of the Assembly and dismissal of Ministers and calling for elections. I claim that these are very important powers under the new set-up.” 

Therefore, a change in the Constitution that we have so far accepted means a change in all these items of responsibility that we have at present if these powers continue to operate, I claim that the Governor under the new set-up has an important constitutional role to function. I have my bitter experiences in this regard. I was the Prime Minister of a province and I know how the Governor of my province was out to break my party.

A political post

Das’ point is important because it knocks down the oft-repeated argument that a governor somehow departs from his role as a constitutional head when he becomes involved in politics. As was well known by 1947, the way the post of governor was fashioned, his primary role was political: to function as the representative of the Centre in the provinces.

This was not only limited to Orissa but was a recurring feature of all provincial governors under the Government of India Act 1935. In Bengal, the subcontinent’s only ministry with significant Hindu and Muslim support, the government was sabotaged by the British governor.

Prime Minister Fazlul Haq, hailing from the left wing Krishak Praja Party, was supported by both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Congress. Haq was tricked into resigning by the Bengal governor, who thought that a Muslim League government would be more pliable to British interests. The Bengali League ministry that was formed in 1943, as a result of the governor’s machinations, excluded nearly the entire Hindu community from power, thus releasing forces that eventually resulted in the communal partition of Bengal.

After a disaster like Bengal, claims by the Congress high command that the governor would be a rubber stamp need be taken with a pinch of salt. As could be expected, the governor played a highly deleterious role in modern India too. In 1954, the Punjab government was dismissed simply because Prime Minister Nehru wasn’t too happy with the chief minister. In 1959, Nehru dismissed the Communist government of Kerala even as it was fighting the Congress electorally.

In the Constituent Assembly, Nehru had sought to downplay the role of a governor by calling him a benign link with the Centre, promising that governors would be “people who have not taken too great a part in politics”. Yet, as it is quite clear, the governor has a political role to play by definition. He has often ending up meddling in the affairs of elected state governments and pushed the interest of the party which happens to be ruling New Delhi.

We have seen this recently in Arunachal Pradesh where the governor plotted to remove the democratically elected chief minister in December 2015. And, of course, we are now seeing this in Tamil Nadu, where the governor ignored the will of the elected assembly to not swear in Sasikala – an action that dovetailed perfectly with the interest of the ruling party in New Delhi.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.