The Rediff Special /President Shankar Dayal Sharma
'We should show the world we are capable of tackling any crisis'
The President's inaugural address at the governors conference is deeply relevant in this era of coalitions and hung assemblies. Which is why we have reproduced it here for your reading pleasure.
The last conference of governors was held between December 28-29, 1995. The intervening period has not been uneventful. Among other
things, general elections to the Lok Sabha were held in April-May,
1996. Thereafter, there were four changes of government at the
Elections were also held to the assemblies of Assam, Haryana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, and the Union territory of Pondicherry. Later, in 1996, there were elections to the assemblies of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. The restoration of popular government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir was a major achievement.
We were unfortunate in losing M Channa Reddy, who died in
office as governor of Tamil Nadu in December 1996. Dr Reddy had
served the nation with devotion and distinction. We place on record
our gratitude in respect of his valuable contributions during the
freedom struggle and in diverse spheres of national reconstruction.
Krishna Pal Singh was appointed as governor of Gujarat,
Chaudhary Randhir Singh as governor of Sikkim and O P Sharma as
governor of Nagaland.
Justice S Fathima Beevi, formerly a judge of the Supreme
Court of India, was appointed governor of Tamil Nadu and
Justice S S Kang, formerly chief justice of Jammu and Kashmir high
court, was appointed governor of Kerala. Their experience of and
insights into the working of the Constitution and the laws comprise
I P Gupta was appointed lieutenant governor of the Andaman and Nicobar islands and Tejendra Khanna lieutenant governor of Delhi.
All of them are participating in a conference of governors for
the first time. I wish them every success in the service of the
The last conference felt that a committee of governors may be constituted on ''role of the governor as chancellor''. I am glad the committee has completed its work and has prepared its report. The report would be circulated to the governors and lieutenant governors. The report would also be forwarded to the ministry concerned.
The present conference has certain special features. The
focus of the conference is: ''The role of the constitutional head, when, following an election, no party or combination of parties appears to have secured a majority.'' This is a subject directly within the purview of the governors and involving their individual judgment.
The subject has assumed increasing importance. The outcome of
the elections to the eleventh Lok Sabha and the Uttar Pradesh state
assembly in 1996 has led to conjectures that hung assemblies and
even Lok Sabhas could be a recurrent feature in India's political
This has a bearing on the image of our country. We have to
bestir ourselves to prove that there are institutions and systems
which can efficiently and confidently deal with the phenomenon of
It follows that there is a corresponding need to promote
wholesome, comprehensive, constructive and meaningful examination
of the subject -- by governors of states as well as by leaders of
political parties. Deliberations with these qualitative characteristics comprise the democratic approach towards issues of
Indeed, if I may say so, more than 25 centuries ago,
referring to the Vajjis, the Buddha himself commended such an
approach as essential to the well being of democratic republican
communities. The Buddha had said: ''So long, of Ananda, that the Vajjis hold full and frequent assemblies amongst themselves and full and frequent discussions, so long may the Vajjis be expected
to prosper and not to decline.''
The fact that the subject is debatable and one on which diverse
views have been expressed or could be expressed makes its examination all the more useful and necessary. Some
complexities cannot simply be wished away, or left unattended and
Procrastination or drift creates scope for uncertainty,
confusion, controversy and acrimony. A judicious outlook, one based
on experience, vision and pragmatism, is needed. We must face up to
reality squarely, and be practical and purposeful. The whole effort
should be towards enhancing awareness and understanding of the
subject. We should make a frank appraisal of the constraints and
complexities involved, and the relative merits of alternative
methods of dealing with different situations as this could ensure smooth
and correct working of our Constitution in the most difficult of
Considering the political situation in India, this conference should
signify the capability and determination of higher leadership to
manage effectively any problem, however intractable it may seem.
This will be in keeping with our country's prestige as an advanced
Ascertaining the views of leaders of political parties would
enable a more comprehensive perception of various dimensions of the
theme of the conference. This is essential having regard to the key
role that the constitutional head is required to perform in the
given context. All considered, the constitutional head must come
forth as a custodian of the Constitution, a source of confidence
and assurance for the people -- and even more so in periods of
tension and crisis.
If the conference promotes the identification of any principles, norms or procedures that should be kept in view by constitutional heads and by political parties, a major gain would have been secured.
It will of course be pertinent to bear in mind that situations
differ, and differ in significant respects. Even in similar
situations there could be important differences. It would be
desirable, therefore, to be mindful of the position and
responsibilities of the constitutional head.
The observations of the Supreme Court, in the Hargovind v Raghukul Tilak case regarding the office of the governor, are specially noteworthy. In the unanimous judgment by a five-member Constitution bench, the Supreme Court had ruled:
(I quote) ''It is impossible to hold that the governor is under the control of the Government of India. His office is not subordinate or subservient to the Government of India. He is not amenable to the directions of the Government of India, nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his functions and duties. His is an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the Government of India.''
In my view, the constitutional head should function with due impartiality, independence, constitutional propriety and transparency.
On the theme of our conference, there are several leading cases.
Judicial pronouncements from time to time have elucidated a number
of aspects. Reference may also be made to the commission on
Centre-state relations constituted in June 1983 under the
chairmanship of R S Sarkaria, formerly a judge of the Supreme
The Sarkaria Commission's report, submitted in October 1987,
contains a close study of a number of noteworthy features. At the end of chapter IV of its report, the commission had recommended: ''If there is a single party having an absolute majority in the assembly, the leader of the party should automatically be asked to become the chief minister.
''If there is no such party, the government should select a
chief minister from among the following parties or groups of
parties by sounding them, in turn, in the order of preference
indicated below: (i) an alliance of parties that was formed prior to the
elections; (ii) the largest single party staking a claim to form the
government with the support of others, including independents; (iii) a post-electoral coalition of parties, with all the partners in the coalition joining government; (iv) a post-electoral alliance of parties, with some of the parties in the alliance forming a government and the remaining
parties, including 'independents,' supporting the government from
These and other recommendations appear to merit careful scrutiny.
Almost 10 years after the report became available, I am told that
a subcommittee of the standing committee of the Inter-State Council
has now considered the recommendations and that further examination
The role of the governor was earlier studied by a committee of governors constituted by then president V V Giri, after a decision in the conference of governors in November 1970.
The report of that committee, submitted to the President and placed before the conference of governors in November 1971, is a very readable document. However, the report could not be made public nor could the political parties be consulted for their views.
Besides furnishing insights and recommendations on the role of the governors, the committee had underlined the importance of developing conventions in a parliamentary system. ''In the purposeful evolution of conventions in a parliamentary system, the political parties, as much as the governors, have a primary responsibility,'' it said.
With this background, some questions arise that appear worth
giving thought to:
(i) Should the leader of the government that has failed to secure a majority in a general election be obliged to tender his
resignation and that of the members of his council of ministers,
and if so, when: immediately after the election results become apparent, or on the new house being notified as
constituted, or only on an indication from the constitutional
(ii) On the composition of the new House being clear, should the constitutional head wait for the leader of some party or combination of parties to approach him with a claim to form a government? If so, how long should he wait for such an initiative? In the interim period,
should any restrictions or restraints be observed by the care-taker
(iii) Should the constitutional head himself take the initiative
towards consulting political parties on their being in a position
to form a government? If so, what may be the criteria that qualifies a political party for an invitation to form a government?
(iv) Should a leader so invited to form a government be asked to
seek a vote of confidence in the relevant House? If so, should a
period be stipulated for doing so?
(v) Till it wins the confidence vote, should the government be obliged to observe any restrictions or restraints?
(vi) Article 176 (1) of the Constitution reads as follows: ''At the commencement of the first session after each general election to the legislative assembly and at the commencement of the first session of each year, the governor shall address the legislative assembly or, in the case of a state having a legislative council, both Houses assembled together and inform the legislature of the causes of its summons.''
In the ordinary course, an address represents the policies and programmes of the council of ministers and invites the attention and consideration of the legislature in this respect. However, it is argued that the circumstances are materially different when a government is asked first to seek a vote of confidence.
In such a situation the question arises whether the address
under the above article should not focus exclusively on the true
cause of the summoning of the legislature, that is, to enable the
assembly to determine whether it has confidence in the council of
ministers. If the council of ministers succeeds in securing a vote
of confidence, it remains open to them to advise the governor to
make an address under article 175 (1) of the Constitution.
Alternatively, if the council of ministers fails to secure a
vote of confidence and if another council of ministers is installed
in its place, the successor council of ministers retains the option
of advising the governor to address the legislature under Article
175 (1) of the Constitution. All considered, would the foregoing
approach not be desirable?
(vii) When a government is formed on the basis of support from
more than one party, and support to the government is indicated to
have been withdrawn by one or more of the parties, it being evident
that the viability of the government may have been materially
impaired, should the constitutional head:
(a) Take no immediate cognisance of the withdrawal of support,
leaving it for the party or parties concerned to move a motion of
no-confidence in due course, or
(b) Ask that the council of ministers to seek a vote of confidence
from the relevant House?
(viii) A particular configuration of political parties forms
a government, and then, following the withdrawal of support by one
or more of its supporting parties, that government suffers a defeat
in the relevant House. But later the same configuration of political
parties re-forms and there is no other alternative government
possible. It being evident that the re-formed configuration
enjoys a majority, what are the factors that need to be kept in
view for an appropriate decision in the matter?
(ix) What steps may be taken to ensure that the Constitutional head functions as an impartial and independent authority?
It is of course noteworthy that although the position of the
governor in a state is mutatis mutandis with that of the
President of the republic, there are some important differences. These include: (i) there is no provision for imposition of President's rule
at the federal level -- that option simply does not arise; and (ii) a
decision to have general elections to the Lok Sabha has
incomparably complex ramifications.
General elections to the Lok Sabha involve every state and Union territory, entailing colossal public expenditure. They compel a nation-wide shift in the focus and priorities of governmental activity for appreciable period and involve management of elaborate internal security logistics.
A decision to have elections to the Lok Sabha also involves
assessments regarding international relations and the general
security environment with special reference to aspects of national
During our deliberations we should keep before us the
perspective of almost five decades of the working of the
Constitution. We should have a clear vision of the manner in which
the mechanisms and process of our parliamentary democracy would
need to function and develop to be fully in tune with the essential
principles of the parliamentary form of governance in our federal
republic in the decades ahead.
Some words of our first President Dr Rajendra Prasad, in his
address on the concluding day of the proceedings of the Constituent
Assembly on November 25, 1949, come to my mind: ''We have prepared a democratic constitution, but successful working of democratic institutions requires... willingness to respect the viewpoints of others, capacity for compromise and accommodation. Many things which cannot be written in a constitution are done by conventions. Let me hope that we shall show these capacities and develop those conventions.''
Let us keep a clear and steady focus on the purpose and object
of our conference. The overall goal is to safeguard and ensure the
smooth working of the Constitution even in the most difficult of
situations. I see this conference as part of a process, an ongoing
process, which all of us can, and should, take forward.
Tell us what you think of the President's speech