People are the sovereigns, not the governor
By Garga Chatterjee
As of now, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palanisamy of the AIADMK, one of the 2 main Dravidian political forces in Tamil politics, seems to be in charge of affairs. The political turmoil in Tamil Nadu seems to have subsided, albeit temporarily. It could well be a lull before another storm. After Palanisamy won the trust vote in the Tamil Nadu assembly, the opposition DMK, the other Dravidian power, petitioned the Madras High Court to cancel the vote. The Madras High Court adjourned the hearing of the petition till the week starting on February 27th. In case the trust vote is cancelled, the focus will again shift to the future behavior of the Governor of Tamil Nadu vis-à-vis asking for a new trust vote and government continuation or formation.
Let us look back at what happened around the issue of Chief Ministership of Tamil Nadu and the role of the Governor of Tamil Nadu in that affair. With the guilty verdict on Sasikala Natarajan, the stand of the Governor of Tamil Nadu in not inviting Sasikala to form the government or prove her majority has been hailed in certain quarters as evidence of his farsightedness. The governor of Tamil Nadu might have been farsighted because he set his sight on things that are far from his brief. And that is a huge problem in a federal democracy like the Indian Union.
After O.Panneerselvam resigned from the General Secretary position of the AIADMK, Sasikala Narataran became the General Secretary. O.Panneerselvam thereafter tendered his resignation from the Chief Minister’s post, according to the unanimous (which now appears to be not unanimous but a huge majority) wishes of the legislature party of the AIADMK in the Tamil Nadu assembly. The Governor of Tamil Nadu accepted his resignation and O.Panneerselvam was asked to continue as the care-taker Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu till a new Chief Minister was appointed. The AIADMK wanted Sasikala Natarajan to be the new Chief Minister and a stupendous majority of the MLAs of the AIADMK elected her the leader of the AIADMK legislature party in a meeting of MLAs. None of this was illegal. At this point, O.Panneerselvam rebelled against the AIADMK party leadership and claimed that actually most AIADMK MLAs were secretly supportive of him. He also claimed that Sasikala Natarajan and her associates were holding AIADMK MLAs in certain locations against their wish. This is a charge of kidnapping. If this charge were true, the then acting Chief Minister O.Panneerselvam was fully within his right to send in police to these locations and rescue the so-called ‘kidnapped’ MLAs. He did no such thing but continued to parrot the kidnapping theory. His bluff was called when even after Sasikala’s arrest, the AIADMK legislature party, ostensibly freed from the clutches of Sasikala were now free to chose their leader. They did and they did not chose Panneerselvam but rallied behind E Palanisamy, the successor who has full support of Sasikala. In the trust vote, 122 MLAs voted for the AIADMK government led by E Palanisamy. The Panneerselvam camp could garner only 11 votes against. Sasikala’s chosen successor Palanisamy showed he commanded absolute majority in the Tamil Nadu assembly and a stupendous majority among AIADMK MLAs. Through all of these events, what has been most troubling is the undemocratic behavior of the Governor of Tamil Nadu.
It appears that the Governor of Tamil Nadu C Vidyasagar Rao essentially chose to suspend democracy in Tamil Nadu for quite a few days and continued with an unrepresentative and hence undemocratic regime instead. After O Panneerselvam’s resignation, the Governor of Tamil Nadu was handed the signed list of MLAs supporting Sasikala as Chief Minister. This list constituted a majority of the Tamil Nadu assembly. Sasikala, at that point, has no bar to hold the office of Chief Minister. Under which law or article of constitution did the Governor of Tamil Nadu not invite the person who had the support of the majority of MLAs of the Tamil Nadu assembly to form the government? A majority of MLAs of Tamil Nadu represents the majority viewpoint of the people of Tamil Nadu in a representative democracy. From where did the Governor get the power to deny the people a government? A state without a representative government is essentially autocracy. Why did the governor continue in this situation? He chose to stay away from Tamil Nadu for days altogether when there was essentially a dangerous power and governance vacuum in Tamil Nadu, because a Governor chose to deny a people their chosen government. Who does he think he is?
The Governor is not elected by the people of Tamil Nadu. He doesn’t represent their political choice. The MLAs of Tamil Nadu are elected by the people of Tamil Nadu. They represent their political choice. Thus, when a Governor denies the chance to form the government to the person elected by a majority of MLAs of Tamil Nadu as their leader, an unelected person denies the people of Tamil Nadu to exercise their political choice through their elected representatives. Whether Sasikala was guilty or not, that was for the courts to decide. The Governor is not the court. It is not his job to decide or predict whether in 10 days or 10 weeks or 10 months, someone might be convicted. There is no article in the constitution that says that a government or a Chief Minister has to have some minimum tenure or that if someone has a possibility of conviction in a future date then that person cannot be appointed as Chief Minister in the present date. Then on what ground did the Governor of Tamil Nadu deny a representative government to the people of Tamil Nadu at that point? His job was to ascertain who commanded a majority in the Tamil Nadu assembly. He was presented with a list of MLAs representing the majority of Tamil Nadu assembly. Did he suspect that the list was false? In that case, he could have asked for a parade of MLAs. Sasikala had offered to do that given the Governor’s intransigence. Palanisamy’s trust vote shows that Sasikala’s list was not fraudulent. The Governor simply overruled the majority opinion of the people of Tamil Nadu. Because he could. It is immaterial whether he was right or wrong. The relevant legal and constitutional question is, is that his job? Does the Governor of a state, not under President’s Rule, have any right to deny to the person chosen by a majority of MLAs to form the government when no article of constitution disqualifies the person? That is the real question that the Governor of Tamil Nadu has to answer.
There is reason to believe that the charges of partisanship against the Governor of Tamil Nadu are not without substance. This governor C Vidyasgar Rao, a veteran of BJP-Jansangh for more the 40 years, gave ample opportunity anti-AIADMK forces in Tamil Nadu to try to break the party assisted by his delay. The party, which has fished the most in these troubled waters, is the BJP whose support for the O.Panneerselvam group was quite open. That is not surprising. O.Panneerselvam, in his brief regime, bartered away Tamil Nadu’s state rights when it agreed to the UDAY scheme, something that J.Jayalalithaa had opposed on grounds of encroachment on federal structure. Thus, Delhi had found a pliant partner in O.Panneerselvam. Their horse did not win the race, even though Delhi tried its best through its man in Chennai.
Who does the Governor represent? Time and again, it is seen that the Governor represents the Union government. Thus we see the Governors selectively toppling only those State governments that are ruled by parties that are now in power in the Union government at Delhi. The most recent instance of this shameless act happened recently in Arunachal Pradesh. Even more recently, the Governor of Tripura refused to read passages critical of the Union government – a House speech that is prepared by Tripura’s Council of Ministers and thus represents the majority viewpoint of the people of Tripura. Who is the Governor to ignore the majority viewpoint in a representative government? The Governor is not sovereign. Not even the President of the Indian Union is sovereign. Only the people are. That’s what makes the Indian Union a republic and not a monarchy.