Explained: Role of Governor in State Politics

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The role of Governor in state government was in news recently. A question asked in Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) exam induced sparks across political circles. It read: “Critically examine the role of Governor in the State politics in India, particularly in Bihar. Is he a mere puppet?”. In this light, it has become necessary for Indians to understand this constitutional authority. This post is an attempt towards the same.

How is a Governor appointed?

The Governor is neither directly nor indirectly elected by the people. Instead, he is appointed by the President under article 155 of the constitution. In this light, Governor is sometimes understood as a nominated agent of the central government. However, Supreme Court had clarified in 1979 that a Governor is not under employment of central government. It is an independent constitutional office.

What are the terms and conditions of this post?

Constitution lays down following conditions for the Governor’s office:

  • He should be an Indian citizen above the age of 35 years.
  • He should not be an MP or MLA and should not be holding any office of profit. He will have to resign before taking oath as Governor.
  • He holds office for a term of 5 years and may be re-appointed after that period.

Apart from constitutional provisions, two conventions have also developed regarding this office. These are:

  • He should not belong to the state where he is appointed as a Governor. This is to ensure that he is distant from local politics and will not show bias in performing his duties.
  • President is expected to consult with the concerned Chief Minister before appointment of Governor in the state. This is to ensure smoothness in centre-state relations.

What are the powers and functions of Governor?

The powers and functions of a Governor can be categorized under the following four heads:

1. Executive powers.

  • Governor is a nominal executive head of state government. All executive actions in the state are taken in his name.
  • He can make rules for smooth functioning of state government.
  • Among others, he appoints the following chief functionaries in the state: Chief Minister and other Ministers, Advocate General, State Election Commissioner, Chairman and Members of State Public Service Commission.
  • He can recommend the imposition of emergency in state to the president. During President’s rule, a Governor enjoys direct executive power in the state.
  • He is ex-officio chancellor of state universities and appoints vice-chancellors.   

2. Legislative powers.

  • Governor is an integral part of state legislature. He can address or summon the legislative assembly and can also dissolve it.
  • He nominates one sixth of the members of legislative council in bicameral states and one member of legislative assembly from the Anglo-Indian community.
  • After a bill is passed by state legislature, it is sent to the Governor. He can give his assent, withhold assent, sent it for consideration of President or can return the bill (not a money bill) for re-consideration of state legislature.
  • If need arises, he can promulgate ordinances when state government is not in session.

3. Judicial powers.

  • He can grant pardons or can commute the sentence of any person who is convicted for an offence within the executive powers of the state.
  • He appoints and promotes persons to Judicial Service including District Judges in the state in consultation with respective state High Courts.

4. Financial powers.

  • Money bills can be introduced in state legislature only with the Governor’s prior approval. The same is true for demand of grants.
  • Governor constitutes a Finance Commission every five years to examine the financial situation of institutions like municipalities and panchayats in the state.

What is the relevance of Governor in practice?

The constitution of India provides for a parliamentary form of government. It is a system where the executive is answerable to the legislature. This system of government is present at both central and state level. Consequently, the Governor has been made only a nominal head of state executive.

Real executive power lies with the Council of Ministers headed by Chief Minister. This is for the reason that in a democracy, more power is vested with those offices which are elected by the people, as against the offices which are directly appointed like that of the Governor.

In conclusion…

The Constitutional post of Governor is a highly respected position in Indian politics. A Governor is considered as the defender of constitutional values in the state, and is expected to be above petty politics. It is evident from the fact that a Governor is exempted from any criminal proceedings against him during his tenure.

It is true that as far as executive powers are concerned, Governor is only a nominal head. It is also true that he may act as an agent of central government at times. However, it does not mean that he is a mere “puppet”. As has been clarified by the Supreme Court itself, Governor is an independent constitutional authority and should be respected in that regard. 

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