Funeral of Federalism in Arunachal Pradesh

Not all is right in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the Indian Union. Some old British-rule era habits die hard, or may be they never die for some imperial habits are essential for maintaining undemocratic dominance over democratically elected undesirables. Thus New Delhi struck again, this time through the office of the governor of Arunachal Pradesh. Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa, the Delhi School of Economics educated former Indian Administrative Service officer, was appointed as the governor of Arunachal Pradesh by the present BJP-led NDA government at New Delhi. This New Delhi appointed unelected character toppled the democratically elected government of Arunachal Pradesh, led by Chief Minister Nabam Tuki of the Congress. This was accomplished by convening the assembly without consulting the speaker or the chief minister and using that ‘assembly’ to ‘impeach’ the speaker of the Arunachal Pradesh assembly Nabam Rebia. This governor-convened ‘assembly’ was not actually held inside the Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly building but in a random community hall in Itanagar. The Gauhati High Court has stayed these actions by the governor for the time being. Thus, this attempt at ‘regime change’ has been stalled. What does one call the toppling of an elected government by an unelected office-holder like the governor? New Delhi appointed governor Rajkhowa chose to act as he did based on his reading of the constitution. It is amazing that there exists no method available beforehand to a state government and hence to the people of the state to stop a New Delhi deputed governor from doing what he did. This is a disease common to all over-centralized multi-ethnic rashtras. Theses entities show who is sovereign by chosing which of its own made-up rules it can violate and when. Unfortunate are the people of the lands that are called Arunachal Pradesh. Even the name of the state, ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ is an imposition for those two words mean nothing in any language native to the people’s homelands that constitute the area. It is distant – not from people of the area, who should ideally matter, but from the real decision-makers of Arunachal Pradesh – folks who decide its fate sitting in or consulting with New Delhi, in short, the folks who really matter. Their plight may not even have made it to the so-called ‘national’ radar but for the fact that the ousted government was led by a ‘national party’ and that party now needs to score brownie points against another ‘national party’ that is in power in New Delhi.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Who is the governor of a state? That character is New Delhi’s agent in a state/province[/pullquote]
Let me state certain things, in a question and answer form. Who is the governor of a state? That character is New Delhi’s agent in a state/province. This character even has discretionary powers – which do not flow from wishes of the state’s people but typically from the wishes of New Delhi. What is the origin of this position? When British acquired one sovereign area of the subcontinent after another, after having amassed some serious amount of territory (which would go on to become the Indian Union and Pakistan in 1947), they appointed some loyal and trusted dalal of centralized imperial rule, to keep the acquired areas and provinces ‘in check’. These positions had various names in various British acquired and controlled territories in the subcontinent. The 1935 Government of India Act had provincial governors with huge discretionary powers – natural for a colonial centre when dealing with limited but rrepresentative native provincial government.The post-partition position of the governor is, in a long range sense, the continuation of that office. What change did governorship undergo from Union Jack to Tricolour? How similar were the pre-partition dalals of British imperialism and post-partition agents of New Delhi? Firstly, post-partition, they were non-white. Also, they answered to New Delhi and not finally to London. But as before, they were almost never from the area which they were appointed to ‘govern’. They also have often done what their pre-partition counterparts did – carry out central rule as per wishes of New Delhi, typically when democratically elected government’s of states does things that New Delhi’s sarkar bahadur doesn’t like. Did Indian Union’s founding fathers want to change or abolish this imperialism-inspired position? Yes and No. If one follows the debates of the constituent assembly, one sees a pattern. The debates started before 1947, and ended much after that. The same Congressites who made many speeches in such debates in support of state rights made an about turn after partition. With their super-majority control of New Delhi, centralizing power was the way to check any opposition. This was reflected in the governor issue. There were the anti-imperialist calls for doing away with the position altogether. There was a democratic sentiment of having a governor elected by the state’s people. After all, how can the constitutional head of the state government be so unrepresentative. True to their character, most of Indian Union’s founding fathers sitting in New Delhi not only wanted the governor position to continue but also made in an unelected position, directly controlled by the Centre. They also gave this position the power to recommen the dissolution of elected state governments, often elected many crores of people. There has been President’s Rule in the states nearly a 100 times with the governor playing a shameful role most of the time. 22 of these instances saw the governor rule the states for a year or more. And president’s rule is just one among the many other ways in which New Delhi parks its unwanted nose in state politics through its governor. Such an undemocratic system has no place in a representative federal democracy. It is only after the rise of ethno-national parties in the states that the governors have lost some teeth. But they have not become toothless, as the events of Itanagar show.

The office of the governor is an example of an anti-people undemocratic relic from the British rule. Must we remind ourselves so explicitly that what happened on 15th August 1947 was tranfer of power, its repackaging as ‘independence’ notwithstanding? People of a state, Arunachal Pradesh included, are neither stupid or nor apprentice-citizens. They are adults with inalienable rights of democratic representation. Swaraj is a process – not an event. Abolishing the post of governor will be a step in that direction. Its not a ‘bad apple’ issue but a poison tree issue. Why should unelected governors exist at all?


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Garga Chatterjee Written by:

Brain scientist. Columnist. Bengali. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

One Comment

  1. kyrsoibor
    January 8, 2016

    new emperor same method

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