Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vintage P.C. Alexander makes his presence felt - moots 5-year secure term for governors

At the launch of Muthiah’s yet another labour of love, The Raj Bhavans of Tamil Nadu, it was the former civil servant and governor, P.C. Alexander, who outshone everyone else and stole the limelight. It might not have been the perfect forum to air his views on what I would call the politicization of the office of the governor in India, but Alexander was in full flow and, not surprisingly, the media lapped it all up. Both The Times of India and The Hindu gave prominent space to what he said.

Recollecting his years as governor of Tamil Nadu, including a year (1989) when the state was under President’s rule, Alexander said that that was the best year of his more than 55 years of civil as well as non-civil service. But he never really explained why. Perhaps it had to do with the peaceful circumstances when the state was under President’s rule.

It was all very well to have a magnificent home to stay, but the governor lacked security of tenure, Alexander said. “It is the unkindest way of keeping such a high dignitary in office. After 60 years of Independence, the governor should be given five years of security,” he said, pointing out that the appointment of the governor under the Constitution depended on the pleasure of the President of India and it could very well be that the governor woke up one morning to learn that the pleasure had been withdrawn. He also said that the pleasure was not the President’s alone, many a time the pleasure was the Prime Minister’s.

Alexander was for some method to be followed by the President for the appointment of the governor. There has to be a committee with the Chief Justice as chairman, the home minister and three eminent people, to select the governor, he said. Stating that the job of a governor was a political one, he urged politicians not to shy away from aspiring to be governor. “But when politicians become governors, they should forget their past political affiliations and deal with the job with impartiality.”

Advising governors-to-be, Alexander said that they must not consider themselves to be employees of the Centre. As a Constitutional appointee, no Prime Minister could tell the governor what should be done or who (political party) should be selected in a crisis. Referring to the framers of the Constitution and the high standards of morality and impartiality of those days, Alexander hinted at a broader look at the provisions of the Constitution relating to the appointment and powers of the governor, especially at a time when “things are not very bright.”

At his age, he probably surprised many with such a pertinent and meaningful speech. You could easily gauge his brilliance and it was not without reason that he once held perhaps the most powerful position ever held by any civil servant in India - that of principal secretary to former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

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