The Governor’s customary address to the legislature at the first session of every year is being increasingly politicised. More often than not, those responsible for such unseemly controversies overshadowing the solemn occasion are the incumbents in Raj Bhavan. In the latest instance, Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi has expressed his inability to read out the address prepared by the DMK-run government, citing what he termed “misleading claims and facts” in numerous passages. Reading them out, he claimed, would have made the Governor’s address “a constitutional travesty”. Compounding this constitutional mischief with a partisan claim, he sought to make much of the fact that the national anthem is played only at the end of the address and not at the beginning also. Anyone who understands the Governor’s role in a parliamentary democracy will know that it is the one declining to read out the address prepared by an elected government who reduces the address to a travesty. Governments are run by parties that contest elections on a political platform, and it is only to be expected that they would seek to trumpet their achievements, real or exaggerated, in policy statements. It is the role of the political opposition and the people to judge the content of the address, and not that of the Governor.
A simple test to ascertain the tenability of Mr. Ravi’s claim that he declined to read out the customary address on factual and moral grounds is to raise the question whether either the President or a Governor in a Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled State would ever do so. He did not spell out what exactly the misleading or factually wrong points were, but it is not constitutionally sustainable to claim that the Governor’s address should contain no criticism of the Centre or make no policy pronouncements against the Centre’s policies. However, his point that the Speaker should not have launched a tirade against him after reading out the Tamil version of the Governor’s prepared speech is justified. Such conduct by constitutional functionaries detract from the Assembly’s dignity. The larger issue is still the propensity of Governors to act as political agents of the ruling party at the Centre. It is an unfortunate feature of India’s constitutional system that the country is never short of grey eminences eager to occupy gubernatorial office, but once appointed, they are equally eager to enter the political thicket. It is as if they believe that their duty is to obstruct and undermine State governments run by political adversaries. The real travesty is not in a formal address containing questionable claims, but in a Governor who disagrees profoundly with its policy while remaining in office.