Governors vs. State Governments: Struggles in India’s Federal System

Exploring Conflicts, Powers, and Constitutional Norms in the Ongoing Legal Battles

India is a federal country, where the power is divided between the central government and the state governments. The Constitution of India provides for a Governor as the head of each state, who the President of India appoints on the advice of the central government. The Governor is supposed to act as a link between the center and the state and to ensure that the state government functions according to the Constitution.

However, in recent times, there have been several conflicts and controversies between the Governors and the state governments, especially in those states where the ruling party differs from the one at the center. The Governors have been accused of acting as agents of the central government, interfering in the affairs of the state governments, and violating the constitutional norms and principles.

Some of the examples of such conflicts are:

  • In Kerala, Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has been at loggerheads with the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over various issues, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), farm laws, university appointments, and bills passed by the state legislature. The Governor has refused to give assent to some of the bills passed by the state assembly, such as the Kerala Police Act Amendment Bill, which sought to curb online abuse and defamation, and the Kerala Professional Colleges (Regularisation of Admission in Medical Colleges) Bill, which sought to regularise admissions in two medical colleges. The Governor has also criticized the state government for handling the COVID-19 pandemic, its stance on CAA and farm laws, and its alleged violation of protocol and courtesy.
  • In Tamil Nadu, Governor R. N. Ravi has conflicted with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government led by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin over the issue of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), which is a common entrance exam for admission to medical courses. The state government has passed a bill to exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET, citing its adverse impact on rural and poor students. However, the Governor still needs to give his assent to the bill and has sent it back to the state for reconsideration. The Governor has also expressed his support for NEET in his Republic Day speech, which irked the state government.
  • In Telangana, Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan has been in dispute with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government led by Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao over several bills passed by the state legislature, such as the Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Pass Books Bill, which sought to simplify land transactions and registration, and the Telangana Municipal Laws (Amendment) Bill, which sought to increase reservation for women in local bodies. The Governor has yet to give her assent to these bills and has sought clarifications from the state government. The state government has challenged the Governor’s action in the Supreme Court, accusing her of creating a constitutional impasse.

These conflicts have raised questions about the role and powers of the Governor in a federal system and whether they are being misused or abused by the central government or by themselves. The Constitution gives some discretionary powers to the Governor, such as giving or withholding assent to a bill passed by the state legislature, reserving a bill for consideration of the President, appointing or dismissing a Chief Minister or a Minister, dissolving or proroguing a state assembly, or imposing President’s rule in a state. However, these powers are not absolute or arbitrary and are subject to judicial review and constitutional limitations.

The Supreme Court of India has laid down some guidelines and principles for exercising these powers by the Governor. For instance,

  • The Governor should act as a constitutional head of the state, not as an agent of the central government.
  • The Governor should act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers headed by the Chief Minister, except in matters where he is required to act in his discretion.
  • The Governor should give his assent to a bill passed by the state legislature unless there is a valid reason to withhold it or reserve it for the President’s consideration.
  • The Governor should only interfere in the day-to-day administration or policy decisions of the state government if there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery or a violation of fundamental rights.

The Governor vs State Government conflict is not a new phenomenon in India’s political history. It has been witnessed in various states and under various governments over different issues. However, it has become more frequent and intense recently due to various factors such as political polarisation, ideological differences, competitive federalism, media exposure, and judicial activism.

The conflict between the Governor and the State Government is not healthy for the federal structure and the democratic spirit of the country. It can lead to the erosion of the constitutional authority and the credibility of the Governor and the instability and resentment of the state government. It can also hamper the development and the welfare of the state’s people.

Therefore, there is a need for a dialogue and cooperation between the Governor and the state government, based on mutual respect and understanding and guided by the Constitution and the rule of law. The Governor should act as a bridge between the center and the state, not as a barrier or a boss. The state government should also respect the constitutional position and the role of the Governor and not treat him as an adversary or an enemy. The central government should avoid misusing or influencing the Governor for its political interests or agenda.

The Governor vs. State Government conflict can be resolved by following the constitutional norms and principles and adopting a balanced and pragmatic approach. The Governor and the state government should work together for the common good of the state and the nation and not against each other.

Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is a seasoned Political Journalist with a deep passion for Indian Politics. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has established himself as a trusted… More »

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