January 15, 2023

TN: Governor’s Antipathy to Federalism

V B Ganesan

THAT Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi is on an overdrive to serve his masters at the Centre was proved once again when he, during his customary address to the Assembly, intentionally omitted important phrases and words from the speech prepared by the state government and subsequently approved by him.

Proving once again his reluctance to follow the ethics of constitutional duties, Ravi disrespected the state on three counts. One by violating his constitutional duty by exceeding the brief of his customary address by dropping the salient points in the speech prepared by the state government, despite clearing the same for its distribution among legislators, and inserting his own thoughts without prior consultation with the state government. Second, when the chief minister objected to the changes made by the governor during his thanks giving speech, in a show of disrespect to a chief minister, he walked out of the assembly hall. Third, as it is customary that the national anthem will be played at the end of the inaugural session, he skipped such an important protocol proving once again that rules are not for him.

Prior to this customary annual address for the year 2023, the governor has infuriated the people of Tamil Nadu by suggesting that ‘Thamizhagam’ is the opt name for the state instead of the present Tamil Nadu which shows some sort of divisiveness in the term ‘Nadu’.  Every sane person in the state, naturally except the BJP and the AIADMK factions, strongly repudiated the divisive comment of the governor. The term Tamil Nadu was in vogue in early Tamil literature. During the formation of states on linguistic basis across the country, it was named as Madras in 1956. It was veteran communist leader P Ramamurthy who placed a bill before parliament to change the name to Tamil Nadu. In the absence of Ramamurthy who was then in jail, Bhupesh Gupta took up the matter and argued before parliament in support of the bill which was also seconded by DMK leader C N Annadurai. However, the bill was defeated at that time. When the DMK came to power for the first time in 1967, one of the earliest actions it took was to pass a resolution in the assembly to change the name of the state from Madras to Tamil Nadu which was later on accepted by the centre.

Now, unable to digest the reiteration of social justice by political parties in Tamil Nadu, the governor omitted the terms such as ‘social justice’, ‘self-respect’, ‘equality’, ‘women rights’, ‘communal harmony’, ‘respect to biodiversity’, ‘inclusive growth’, ‘Thanthai Periyar’, ‘Annal Ambedkar’, and ‘Peruthalaivar Kamarajar, mentioned in various parts of the speech prepared by the state government. He even added some of his own words without the knowledge of the state government.

In an unprecedented move, immediately after the speaker read out the Tamil version of the address, Chief Minister M K Stalin pointed out that the excesses committed by the governor despite obtaining prior approval of the speech from him on January 7 during which he has not made any objection to the draft. Despite such a violation of constitutional norms, we have not disrupted his speech considering the ethos of this august assembly, he said. In such a situation, it is proposed that only the approved English speech given earlier to the members and the Tamil version as read by the speaker will be on assembly records and the portions and phrases used by the governor on his own within this premises will not be included in the record. Thereafter, this resolution was adopted by a voice vote. It is to be mentioned that BJP members left the assembly hall immediately after the governor’s exit.

While all the political parties except the BJP and the AIADMK condemned this incident as an attack on federalism and constitutional values and ethics, the CPI(M) state secretariat has called for a gherao of the Raj Bhavan in Chennai on January 20 demanding immediate recall of R N Ravi from Tamil Nadu. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau also condemned the actions of the governor and said his actions also underline a growing pattern under the current BJP-led government where governor’s office is used as an instrument to undermine the constitutional role of the state governments and smacks of an anti-federal tendency and penchant for centralisation of powers.