It seems that the NDA has not learnt the first lesson from the UPA’s mistakes. It appears hell bent on continuing the decimation of institutions that has been the bane of Indian politics. The same contagion of small-mindedness that corroded the UPA is spreading its poison, under the facade of the new. The joke doing the rounds in Delhi, that the party in power has changed but the politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats have not, seems to be coming true, alas. The surprise is not that it’s business as usual. The surprise is how quickly business as usual has asserted itself.
Think of the unseemly spectacles unfolding around us on institutions. The hallmark of a new governance paradigm is that one party does not use the past misdeeds of the other as an alibi to repeat the same mistakes. Yet this is exactly what has happened in the way in which this government has handled the matter of governors. An article of faith in a civilised democracy is that we sometimes hold our noses, but give the offices the respect due to them. After they assume office, governors are not individuals belonging to a party; they have to be judged in relation to a role. This government is right to say that certain political appointees, like H.R. Bhardwaj, demeaned the office of the governor by playing low politics. But that is at best an argument for transferring a couple of governors in states where there were reasonable political apprehensions. It is not an argument for the wholesale denigration of the office. One of the distortions the UPA produced was upsetting the constitutional deference due to offices. The idea of secretaries calling up governors, as if they were minions in the civil service, and asking them to leave, reflects a culture of corroded institutions, where all formal deference is subordinated to political whim. The objection made is that the governors, by virtue of being Congressmen, are unfit to be governors, that they will somehow not transmit what one spokesman called the “national agenda”. But this is tacitly admitting that the last set of governors were right to do the Centre’s bidding; now the government wants a set that can do its bidding rather than discharge the duties of the office. The government’s argument against the Congress would be more credible if there were some undertaking that the next set of governors would be