Strange as it may seem, Gandhi quite regularly called on British governors when he toured the provinces. Change was in the air when he called on Bengal’s last British governor, Sir Frederick Burrows, on October 30, 1946. The Clement Attlee-appointee asked Gandhi, “What would you like me to do?” The question was remarkable. Here was a British governor, on his way out, asking the father of the new nation for instructions. The three-word answer Burrows received was terse. “Nothing, Your Excellency.”
Did Gandhi mean governors should be “doing nothing” and be mere figureheads? Not so. He meant now that India was free, elected chief ministers, not governors were in charge of running the government. The Constituent Assembly, meeting around the time, had discussed the role of governors in free India, amid suggestions for doing away with the office altogether, vesting its powers in the chief minister.
Gandhi wrote in the Harijan of December 21, 1947, on these discussions: “much as I would like to spare every paise [sic] of the public treasury, it would be bad economy to do away with provincial governors and regard chief ministers as a perfect equivalent. Whilst I would resent much power of interference to be given to governors, I do not think that they should be mere figureheads. They should have enough power enabling them to influence ministerial policy for the better. In their detached position, they would be able to see things in their proper perspective and thus prevent mistakes by their cabinets. Theirs must be an all-pervasive moral influence
in their provinces.”
One of the early governors’ conferences, on May 8, 1949, was addressed by Governor General C. Rajagopalachari, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel. Rajaji said to the governors: “You should not imagine that you are just figureheads and can do nothing... Our prime minister and deputy prime minister do not hold that view. They want you to develop your influence for good and they expect you to find means for achieving it without friction and without prejudice to the march of democracy.”
The “key phrases” on governors from Gandhi and Rajaji are: all-pervasive moral influence, detached position, proper perspective, influence for good, without prejudice to the march of democracy.
Unfortunately, one detour of the “march” has become a pilgrimage to political preferment. The Congress and parties opposed to it, which have come to power, have encouraged the detour.