While the Opposition accuses the Tamil Nadu Governor of infringing upon state autonomy, Banwarilal Purohit says he will continue his state-wide tour and meeting with district officials.

Black flags and a threat Why Opposition in TN is up in arms against Governor Purohit
news Politics Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 17:40

In the eight odd months that he has has been Tamil Nadu Governor, Banwarilal Purohit has courted one controversy after another – whether it is meeting officials during his tour of various districts, or his name figuring in the alleged sex-for-case tape or patting a woman journalist on the cheek in response to a question.

The Opposition in Tamil Nadu have now come together to protest against Governor Purohit, who they allege is going beyond his Constitutional mandate and interfering in state administration. Besides the DMK, the MDMK led by Vaiko, CPI, CPI(M) and TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK have all hit out at the Governor, accusing him of acting beyond his powers and issuing threats to political parties.

What has triggered the present row?

Since Governor Banwarilal Purohit took office in October last year, he has been routinely holding meetings with top district officials. While the Raj Bhavan was quick to call the meetings a “familiarisation exercise”, the Opposition has dismissed the statement, calling the Governor’s actions an overreach. This even as the Edappadi Palaniswami-led government has remained a mute spectator, taking no umbrage to the Governor’s meetings. The DMK, however, decided to go one step further and has been organising black flag demonstrations against Governor Purohit when he goes on tour.

On Friday, the Namakkal police arrested 192 DMK cadre for its black flag demonstration against Governor Purohit. According to The Hindu, cases were registered under IPC Sections 124 (assaulting President, Governor etc), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 143 (unlawful assembly), and Section 71 (a) Criminal Law Amendment Act.

The very next day, DMK Working President MK Stalin and other members staged a protest outside the Raj Bhavan in Chennai, condemning the “Governor’s arrogance” and his “interference in the affairs of the state”.

While Stalin and the other party workers were detained by the police, the matter did not end there.  

On Sunday, the Raj Bhavan issued a statement in response to the DMK’s protest. Reiterating that the Governor’s state-wide tour and meetings with officials had provisions in law, the Raj Bhavan statement reads, “The institution of the Governor is that of a Constitutional authority who enjoys full authority and freedom to visit any part of the State.  During such tours protocol dictates that the District Collector shall receive him and extend the prescribed courtesies.  In the capacity of the Hon’ble Governor being the Head of the Executive, he enjoys unhindered freedom to meet and interact with officials of the State who are members of the Executive wing.”

The statement further justifies the meetings with district officials, observing, “It is very important to remember that for the Hon’ble Governor to take the right decisions at critical times and for being able to send meaningful monthly reports to the Hon’ble President, he should be familiar with the features and characteristics of the various districts and also be aware of the problems faced by the people.” 

Clarifying that during his meeting with district officials, the Governor does not give any directions, the Raj Bhavan hit out at Leader of Opposition MK Stalin for attempting to “mislead the people” with the use of the word ‘review’.

Raj Bhavan’s statement, however, concluded with a warning for political parties like the DMK: “The office of the Governor is protected under Section 124 of the IPC…Any attempt to overawe or assault or use criminal force will be dealt with as per the law.”

It is this statement that has rallied the opposition parties in Tamil Nadu, who have accused the Governor of issuing a threat to those who protest.  While Governor Purohit has reiterated that he will continue his visits across the state, the DMK has refused to back down, with Stalin dramatically stating that he is “ready to spend a lifetime in jail” protesting against the Governor’s ‘review meetings’.

So, does the Governor enjoy “unhindered freedom” to meet with district officials, as the Raj Bhavan claims?

As per Article 167 of the Constitution, it is the Chief Minister’s duty to furnish information to the Governor, with regard to all decisions of the council of Ministers, proposals for legislation, administration of the state etc.  

Speaking to TNM, N Sathiyamoorthy, Director of Chennai chapter of Observer Research Foundation, says, “Here it is not the state government that is protesting the infringement of their autonomy but ironically, it is the opposition that is saying so. I don’t think formally scheduled meetings of the Governor with officials have taken place before. The briefing with the Governor is by the Chief Minister or the Chief Secretary. In the past, the DGP and the Home Minister have held meetings with the Governor.”

Arguing that the issue is politically sensitive, Sathiyamoorthy notes that the Governor should have acted with discretion. “The Governor has spoken about IPC 124. The question is whether Raj Bhavan should have issued statement or allowed the state government to initiate action or issue a statement. The Raj Bhavan could have avoided making a quasi-legal, quasi-constitutional, quasi-political statement.”

Retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam also observed that the Governor’s briefing is usually with the Chief Minister or the Chief Secretary and never directly with district officials. “The Governor can do ceremonial visits. But the Governor has no business to take information from the Collector. He has to go to the normal channels of government – the Chief Minister or the Chief Secretary. He has every right as a citizen to visit the state. But can’t convene an official meeting. It is totally absurd.”  

Accusing Governor Banwarilal Purohit of exceeding his brief, Devasahayam says, “What the Governor is doing is more than what the Governor normally does during President’s rule. During President’s rule, he has three or four advisors, they take on the role of cabinet. They perform the task of ministers. He has far exceeded his brief.”

He also hit out at the state government, noting, “If the elected governor is justifying the Governor’s actions, they can resign. Why have two power centres?”

Sathiyamoorthy, however, points out that the Opposition unity against the Governor is in many ways an attempt to expose the AIADMK government’s weakness. “The Opposition is targeting the state administration. More so on AIADMK colluding with the Governor in weakening the federal structure. This is close to heart of Dravidian polity.”

The Edappadi Palaniswami government’s defence of the Governor is in complete contrast to the actions of late Chief Minister Jayalalalithaa. During her first term in power, Jayalalithaa had not only accused then Governor Channa Reddy of “misbehaving” with her, but ruling AIADMK cadre even went so far as to gherao the Governor in Tindivanam, recalls Sathiyamoorthy.

He says, “The Opposition is addressing AIADMK cadre. ‘You have weak leadership.’ This is a greater message to the AIADMK cadre that their leadership is not ready to stand up to Tamil Nadu’s history of federal polity.”

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