RANJU DODUM | 14 SEPTEMBER, 2016

JP Rajkhowa and The 'Legacy' He Leaves Behind


ITANAGAR: After more than a week of will he, won’t he, Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa finally left the Arunachal Pradesh capital today after being dismissed from his role as governor of the state rather unceremoniously. Meghalaya governor V. Shanmuganathan will now take temporary charge.

Rajkhowa was sworn-in as governor on July 1, 2015. A former civil servant who had served as a chief secretary of Assam, his home state, Rajkhowa was different from his predecessors, breaking a long line of former military men who had served as governor of a state that is often cited as strategically important, keeping in mind China’s constant claims over much of its territory.

Often reported as being a BJP sympathiser, Rajkhowa was akin to courting controversy from the very beginning. In fact, just a short while after being sworn-in, Rajkhowa had commented on the state of corruption in the state and said that they were very high. Soon after, an otherwise usually warm relationship between Raj Bhavan and the Chief Minister’s office began to turn frosty.

First Rajkhowa began to summon government officials to the Raj Bhavan and hold meetings on key issues, much to the surprise of the state executive. While the governor is often briefed on policies and key decisions taken by the state government, Rajkhowa had begun to issue directives and orders on his own.

Several press releases were often sent from the Raj Bhavan publicity cell which criticised the low standards of public infrastructure; much of it true and appreciated by sections of the public. However, it was the kind of behaviour that not too many people, especially elected leaders, were used to.

Governors, after all, are seen as titular heads of states and do not wield any real power except under extraordinary circumstances. Rajkhowa’s actions however, were different from his predecessors, perhaps bolstered by the BJP’s presence in the Centre. However, he never agreed to such claims or allegations.

His constant criticism of the condition of roads in the state led to a series of back-to-back press releases involving the Raj Bhavan and the then-PWD minister Gojen Gadi. Things escalated when a letter Rajkhowa wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi was "leaked".

He wrote that the airport at Lilabari in neighbouring Assam could be upgraded instead of building a new airport at Hollongi, 70km from the capital Itanagar, to save costs amounting to Rs 1,150 crore.

Then Chief Minister Nabam Tuki later said that he was "surprised" by the letter. Rajkhowa, however, told reporters that he wrote to the Prime Minister's Office after Tuki repeatedly refused to acknowledge his correspondences which had led him suffer sleepless nights.

“I could not sleep for a few days,” is what he had told reporters in November last year.

It was his next move that set things off in a direction from which there really was no coming back.

On December 9, 2015, he summoned the sixth Assembly session for December 16, rescheduling it from the planned session of January 14, 2016.

Rajkhowa claimed that he was exercising the powers under Clause (1) of Article 174 of the Constitution. The council of ministers, whom the governor is bound to consult before summoning the Assembly, were caught unawares as Rajkhowa chose to bypass them and issued the order.

There was already trouble brewing within the ruling Congress government in the state by then and 21 legislators had shifted their loyalties to late Kalikho Pul. On the day of the session, MLAs from opposing ends were hurling verbal attacks outside the Assembly building’s main gate that had been sealed.

Following the proceedings of December 16 and 17, the mood in the state capital grew tense when, among other incidents, a mithun was “slaughtered” outside the Raj Bhavan and some women took off part of their clothing in a protest dharna.

Later, a series of cases were filed in the Guahati High Court and the Supreme Court which had pretty much paralysed the state machinery. Bureaucrats were confounded by the events and journalists had a hard time track of developments in the courts.

A big shock came when the Centre chose to impose President’s Rule in the state on this year’s Republic Day after seeking a report by the Raj Bhavan. The Centre’s rule lasted till February 19 when Kalikho Pul was sworn-in as chief minister in a hurried and late-night ceremony at Raj Bhavan.

Then on June 27, Rajkhowa reportedly went on leave to undergo a surgery at a private hospital in Coimbotore. In his absence, Tripura governor (and former BJP leader from West Bengal) Tathagata Roy was given additional charge of the state but he chose to stay out of the state during his short tenure.

Less than a month later on July 13, the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict which reinstated the Nabam Tuki government. The Congress pulled an even bigger miracle three days later by bringing all non-BJP MLAs together, including Pul, to accept the young Pema Khandu as the next chief minister.

About a month later on August 10, Pul’s body was found hanging in a room in the chief minister’s bungalow. Two days later, Rajkhowa returned to the Raj Bhavan.

By this time, people stood polarised in their opinions on Rajkhowa.

Some welcomed his decision to return, while others felt he should have resigned following the Supreme Court order which was extremely critical of his actions during the political turmoil.

The top court had said that Rajkhowa’s actions were illegal and that he violated constitutional provisions. The ruling was seen as being landmark in not just critiquing Rajkhowa but also in defining the role and powers of all governors.

Earlier this month, it was reported that a junior union minister and a senior officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs had asked Rajkhowa to step down citing health grounds.

However, Rajkhowa is not one to concede defeat easily and refused to do so. Instead, he categorically said that he wanted the Centre to dismiss him and that he would not do so willingly, snubbing the BJP government.

That order stating that he no longer enjoyed the President’s “pleasure” finally came yesterday and he left Itanagar this morning. Even as he left, he was defiantly graceful in his exit focussing mostly on his ‘non-political’ activities and how it was a pleasure for him to hold the top post of the state.

However, he did leave a passing remark in his official message stating that the constitutional validity of the President’s Rule is yet to be decided by the five-member constitutional bench of the Supreme Court. He also said that President’s Rule was not imposed based on his report alone and was done “after proper assessment and due application of mind”.

Whether he will be willing to lend the same amount of generosity in his assessment involving the decision of his removal, we may never know.

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