The Constitution does say that a minister will continue in office “during the pleasure of the governor”.
Tamil Nadu governor R.N. Ravi has plumbed a new low in his gubernatorial assignment marked by attempts to create hurdles in day-to-day governance. The latest is his initial resistance to go by the recommendation of chief minister M.K. Stalin on the reallocation of ministerial portfolios in the wake of the arrest of excise minister V. Senthil Balaji by the Enforcement Directorate, and then publicly offering an uncalled-for and unsolicited comment on the continuation of Mr Balaji as a minister. The comment that he has “not agreed to V. Senthil Balaji continuing any longer as a member of the council of ministers as he is facing criminal proceedings for moral turpitude and is in judicial custody” came along with the notification of reallocation of portfolios.
The Constitution states the executive power of the state is vested with the governor who will be aided and advised in the exercise of that power by a council of ministers which is collectively responsible to the elected legislature. The Constitution-makers, in their wisdom, had instituted a series of checks and balances in the exercise of that power, and the governor’s office is one such institution. However, the spirit of the Constitution as well as the verdicts of the constitutional courts make it very clear that it is the elected representatives who wield the real power as only they are answerable to the people in a democracy, and not the appointee governor.
The Constitution does say that a minister will continue in office “during the pleasure of the governor”, a usage borrowed directly from the Government of India Act, 1935. Again, courts have interpreted that the “pleasure of the governor” ultimately means the pleasure of the legislature which will be communicated through the chief minister who commands the support of the majority of its members. It is for Mr Ravi alone to explain which constitutional provision empowers him to question the choice of a member of the council of ministers. As someone who has seen democratic governance in the states and at the Centre from close quarters, Mr Ravi must ask himself if he would agree to the President of India taking a similar stand with respect to the choice of ministers in the Union council of ministers.
It is a pertinent question as to whether a minister arrested by a law enforcement agency can continue in office. The question would have been obvious in the period immediately after India attaining Independence when values dictated public life to a great extent and public pressure alone would have been sufficient to make the minister quit. Also, it would have been unimaginable in those days for the Union government to let loose its investigating agencies on political leaders in its opposite ideological camp. It is for the people of India to initiate a discussion on both counts and the governor, only as a citizen, may join the process. But this has to develop into a public discourse and then crystallise into law. Till that happens, the governors will do well to act according to the Constitution and the law, which they have taken an oath to protect, defend and preserve.