Governors' Post in the States of India, a Colonial Legacy

Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of Bengal.
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Ever since the BJP led NDA government took control at Delhi last year, there were words doing rounds that UPA appointed governors will be asked to go. As things evolved, a few of the governors voluntarily stepped down while a few others locked horns with the union government over their transfers. Looking at these events one can’t resist thinking whether such an anti-federal post as the Governor is really necessary.

History of the post of Governor
A Governor’s post has a colonial history. British used a post called resident to boss over the princely states as well as the presidencies of India. The resident post was not unique to India, but was present across geographies ruled by British (as well as other European colonialists). This wiki excerpt elaborates on the role of residents and how they were chosen in the yesteryears:
Some official representatives of European colonial powers, while in theory diplomats, in practice exercised a degree of indirect rule. Some such Residents were former military officers, rather than career diplomats, who resided in smaller self-governing protectorates and tributary states and acted as political advisors to the rulers. A trusted Resident could even become the de facto prime minister to a native ruler. In other respects they acted as an ambassador of their own government, but at a lower level, since even large and rich native states were usually seen as inferior to Western nations. Instead of being a representative to a single ruler, a Resident could be posted to more than one native state, or to a grouping of states which the European power decided for its convenience. This could create an artificial geographical unit, as in Residency X in some parts of the British Indian Empire.
Power held by the Governors in the Indian Union
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Let us have a look at the recent Governor appointees to the state of Karnataka – Mr. Hansraj Bharadwaj, a former congress party member, appointed during the UPA regime; Mr. Vajubhai Vala, a former member of the BJP, appointed as the governor within 100 days of the NDA government taking over at Delhi. Looking at this pattern, it becomes clear that the methods of choosing governors hasn’t changed much since the British time. Originally claimed to be a post that ensures continuance of government at State level, this institution of governor defined in our constitution appears to be mostly used by central governments to meet their political ends.

The political leverage aside, the Constitution of India has given certain arbitrary powers to governor, though a governor is not directly elected by the people of the respective State. Article 163(2) from the Constitution :
If any question arises whether any matter is or is not a matter as respects which the Governor is by or under this Constitution required to act in his discretion, the decision of the Governor in his discretion shall be final, and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in his discretion.
The key takeaway from this article is, a Governor’s action shall not be questioned. This exposes a fundamental flaw, for there must be no person in a democracy who is immune to judicial scrutiny.

In Karnataka as well as other states of India, no matter who the people vote to power, the top most decision making powers reside with the one loyal to the establishment at Delhi. Positions occupied by appointment having greater powers than the elected representatives is something that doesn't gel well with the democracy.

The Governors, sometimes so disconnected from ground level realities, tend to look at all States uniformly. This approach stands out especially in linguistic matters, given the linguistic grounds for State formation in India. Within days of his appointment as governor of the state of Karnataka, Mr. Vajubhai Vala made a statement that he could manage his work in Karnataka through Hindi. This statement of his is a display of his disconnect from the people of Karnataka.

(This piece had originally appeared in


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