Tamil Nadu: Where the line for political manoeuvring ends for governors 

The stunned silence when the Supreme Court pulled up a governor for sitting on bills has lingered on in the chaos of cooperative federalism.
Tamil Nadu governor RN Ravi. (Photo | Express)
Tamil Nadu governor RN Ravi. (Photo | Express)

We are a democracy; the images of a rising dyarchy are purely illusory. When an elected state government is made to wait endlessly — in some cases, over two years — for the governor’s signature on the bills cleared by the Assembly, one cannot ignore the cries of angst and despair. The opposition-ruled states end up paying a heavy price for derailing the idea of double-engine governments.

The stunned silence when the Supreme Court pulled up a governor for sitting on bills has lingered on in the chaos of cooperative federalism. Comments like “playing with fire” are not commonplace. Yet, they make no qualms about disrupting the normal functioning of opposition-ruled states while slamming the suggestion that they are decorated rabble-rousers.

On the eve of the hearing of the case in the apex court, which is scheduled on Monday (November 20), is it a conscious effort to make a political statement? No quick answers there. For over two years, Chennai’s Raj Bhavan has been the epicentre of political storms in Tamil Nadu, or Thamizhagam, as the governor loves to call it. It has erupted in controversy every now and then since RN Ravi took charge in September 2021.

Skipping portions of the governor’s address and leaving the Assembly in turmoil is nothing unusual these days. Ravi skipped some sections of the prepared speech having references to Periyar, BR Ambedkar, and former CMs of the state. He refused to read a line that the government will continue to march in valour and vigour towards the Dravidian model of governance because, as the executive head of state, he did not want to praise the Dravidian model. Later, he walked out of the state Assembly when the CM asked for the original speech to be retained.

Soon after V Senthil Balaji was arrested by the ED, Ravi unilaterally dismissed him from the cabinet without the CM’s recommendation. A few hours later, when the CM lambasted the governor and threatened to move court, he did a dramatic volte-face and kept the decision in abeyance. The latest was a petrol bomb thrown by an inebriated miscreant at the Raj Bhavan gate. The NIA has promptly taken up the probe.

TN’s memorandum in November last year to President Droupadi Murmu accused him of unabashedly propagating dangerous, divisive, and religious rhetoric in public. Nothing stopped the governor. All through the past year, he took it as his duty to “course correct” the government at the cost of governance.

Exactly a year later, on November 10, the hapless government told SC that 12 bills passed by the Assembly between 2020 and 2023 were still awaiting the governor’s nod. Several other files were also pending. The appointment of TNPSC members was among the files held up for his approval. Complaints were abundant. It said the governor had positioned himself as a “political rival” and was obstructing the state Assembly by excessively delaying bills. The governments of Punjab, Telangana, and Kerala also queued up at the court with similar complaints.

In the Telangana case, SC said the governors should return bills “as soon as possible” without specifying the timeframe. It slammed the Punjab governor for “playing with fire” and “putting the parliamentary form of government in peril”. The TN governor was told that it was a “matter of serious concern”. Soon after, Ravi returned the bills without giving any reasons, mentioning ‘I withhold assent’. Stalin called it illegal, anti-people, and against the sovereignty of the Assembly. Indeed, it is a fit case to end up in the apex court. Many believe that the governor has turned out to be a liability for the BJP, which is striving to see the lotus bloom in Dravida land. “The governor should restrict himself to the responsibilities given to him,” is how K Annamalai reacted.

The governors can reign over, but not rule. That is the bottom line.

Anto T Joseph
Resident Editor, Tamil Nadu

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express