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  • Where are you ‘guv’?

    Posted On March 10, 2005

    By Karan Thapar

    In England the word ‘Guvnor’ is almost a term of endearment.  In Cockney slang it‘s used with affection and familiarity.  Although it’s respectful it’s also warm and friendly.  It can be a way of addressing your father, your boss or any gentleman who you hold in esteem.  In fact, more often than not, it’s reduced to just ‘guv’.  I recall occasions when I was greeted with a loud ‘mornin guv’ or a taxi-driver acknowledged a tip with a ‘cheers guv’.  It’s a lot nicer than ‘sir’ which sounds cold, aloof and formal – unless, of course, you’re American and drop the word like confetti thus rendering it meaningless.

    In contrast we, in India, think of governors in a very different light.  For us they are not just distant, elevated and grand – all of which might not be undesirable – but also manipulative, partisan and perhaps even downright crooked.  Several of the big political scandals of our half-century-old republic have been orchestrated by or, at least, centred around the actions of governors.  Think of names such as Ram Lal, Tapase, Bhandari, Jagmohan, Sampooranand, Vinod Pande and you’ll know what I mean.  No one would dream of calling these gentlemen ‘guv’.  In fact, you might even question if they were gentlemen? 

    Our Indian problem, it would seem, is practically as old as our tradition of governors.  I owe this little nugget of enlightment to Pratap Bhanu Mehta.  He tells me that the first time one of our governors over-reached himself (a delightful euphemism for incorrect if not also immoral behaviour) was in 1952.  Sri Prakash, a former Congressman, was Governor of Madras (as the state was then called) and invited Rajagopalachari (another Congressman) to form a government even though the United Front under T. Prakasam had won more seats.  Worse, Rajaji wasn’t even an elected member of the legislature.  Instead, he had been nominated to the upper house. 

    This so upset Nehru that he wrote to Rajaji (and remember they were still in the same party) to admonish him.  A sentence from that letter makes ironic reading today : “The one thing we must avoid giving is the impression that we stick to office and we want to keep others out at all costs.”

    If only Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh – two people for whom Nehru allegedly remains an icon – had read the Old Boy’s letter.  For the one thing they succeeded in last week, actually they surpassed themselves, was giving “the impression that we stick to office and we want to keep others out at all costs.”

    Now, in the Governors’ hall of infamy we can add two portraits to hang beside the others in equal disrepute and shame.  They are of S.C. Jamir and Sibte Razi and richly deserve this dishonour.  Jamir, who first sacked Parikkar after he won his vote of confidence only to do the same to Rane a month later, apparently believes that two wrongs do make a right.  Sibte Razi, who disregarded the physical presence of 41 MLAs pledging support to the NDA and chose instead to
    -:  2  :-

    believe in the 42 names on a piece of paper submitted by Shibu Soren, either can’t manage simple arithmetic or is very gullible. 

    But what I write of Congress-appointed governors is equally true of those chosen by the BJP.  Vinod Pande was one of theirs. Jagmohan, who they roundly criticised during his days in Srinagar and even earlier in Delhi, was elevated to cabinet rank.   And, of course, they filled Raj Bhawans with men like Sundar Singh Bhandari, Madan Lal Khurana, Rama Jois, Bhai Parmanand and Vishnu Kant Shastri. 

    Consequently, such is the descent of our governors that two who, in recent times, are considered great are only thus judged because they desisted from doing anything wrong.  I write of B.K. Nehru in Srinagar in ’84 and Surjit Singh Barnala in Chennai in ’90.  Needless to say I’m not quarrelling with this evaluation so much as the fact that the criteria it rests on is minimal.

    So, if things are to improve – or if more are to behave like Nehru and Barnala – we need urgently to ask four questions.  What sort of people should be appointed governors?  How can we ensure and protect their impartiality?  Can guidelines be devised for their action in difficult situations such as hung assemblies?  And when we say they serve at the pleasure of the President what exactly does that mean?

    Whether or not an Indian is ever called ‘guv’ could depend on the answers.

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