Tamil Nadu Governor Vidya Sagar Rao’s swift move to allocate all portfolios handled by ailing state Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, now in a “critical” condition at Apollo hospital, to her deputy O Panneerselvam has triggered a constitutional debate.
Although the governor office release stated that he has invoked the provisions of Article 166 (3), even this requires the “advice” of the chief minister, as a state is administered by a council of ministers (read cabinet) headed by the chief minister under the aid and advice of the chief minister like the Centre under the aid and advice of the council of ministers headed by prime minister.
Like our President is just a rubber stamp, the governor is too. For, the President or a governor can send back a cabinet resolution only twice and if the prime minister or a chief minister sends it back to the President or the governor, as may be the case, has to just sign on the dotted lines and put the rubber stamp.
The governor office release, in the instant case, says carefully that the ‘interim’ arrangement is done with the advice of the chief minister.
However, the million dollar question doing the rounds in the power corridors of both Tamil Nadu and Delhi is that : first, is she in a position to even speak, leave alone read and sign a piece of paper; second, all those who met her in the hospital, including the state governor, could not even speak to her nor did they say so. All that has so far been stated is that they all met the team of doctors treating her, who said that she was responding well to the treatment and would require “some more time”.
This may be indefinite and hence the governor in a sudden move invoked Article 166(3) of the Constitution of India. What does it provide? “The Governor shall make rules for the more convenient transaction of the business of the Government of the State, and for the allocation among Ministers of the said business in so far as it is not business with respect to which the Governor is by or under this Constitution required to act in his discretion.”
But even this discretion has to be exercised by any governor only on the “aid and advice” of a chief minister. This web portal raised this issue a couple of days back in which Dr Prof NR Madhava Menon opined that even an ‘interim’ arrangement should be instructed by the chief minister concerned.
Like former prime minister Manmohan Singh, when hospitalised in Delhi, made an interim arrangement that then cabinet minister Pranab Mukherjee, now the President of India, would continue with the affairs and portfolios then handled by Manmohan Singh. But Manmohan Singh could speak, read, write and sign at that time.
In Tamil Nadu itself, there are three such precedents. When the late CN Annadurai was to be air dashed to the US for treatment, his deputy handled the affairs. His successor M Karunanidhi was to be hospitalised, but as he could speak and read, write and sign, his deputy was deputed. Another instance is that of the late MG Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, who was rushed to a hospital in the US and his deputy was handed over the charge, but mystery shrouded it as he was in a state of coma when a whole aircraft was converted into a mini ‘on-air’ hospital and announcement came that his deputy VR Vedunchezhiyan would continue with the state of affairs of the state.
None knows till date whether MGR could speak and instruct or read and sign, whether he did sign anything to that effect. The same mystery shrouds again the same state of Tamil Nadu.
Senior counsel of Madras High Court MK Vijayan said the matter has to be ascertained. Maybe in palace intrigues, the common man has no right to know, although the Right to Know is a statutory right now.