In Telangana, gap between CMO and Raj Bhavan widening 

The gap between Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao and Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan appears to be widening.

The Governor is yet to give her assent to several crucial Bills passed by the Legislature, including the Private Universities Bill and the one pertaining to setting up a common recruitment board for filling up vacancies in universities.

The State government has landed in a piquant situation as a Bill will not be an Act without the Governor’s assent.

These Bills include the Telangana Goods and Services Tax (amendment) Bill 2017, Telangana State Motor Vehicles Taxation (amendment) Bill 2022, Constitution of Telangana State Universities Common Recruitment Board for direct recruitment to the posts of teaching and non-teaching staff in universities except for medical university and amendment to the GHMC Act and Telangana State Municipalities Bill.

The Bills were sent for her assent but Ms. Soundararajan neither accepted them nor rejected them, as returning them would in turn enable the State to pass the Bill for the second time forcing the Governor to give her consent.

Sources wondered as to how the Governor was sitting on the routine Bills which are neither substantive nor having any constitutional issues attached to them.

When did it start?

The terms between the two institutions, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) and Raj Bhavan, housing the Governor’s office, were normal initially. But, differences cropped up ever since the Governor stopped the Bill pertaining to the nomination of P. Kaushik Reddy as an MLC. The development took place at a time when the ruling party was gearing up for the Huzurabad bypoll, considered prestigious as former Minister Eatala Rajender was seeking re-election from the seat on behalf of the BJP.

Also, the Governor holding the Praja Darbar, a meeting with common people, has been one of the contentious issues between the TRS government and Raj Bhavan. She has been firm on conducting Praja Darbars to get a first hand information about the problems faced by people for their redressal by the Ministries concerned.

Another major reason behind the differences appear to be the TRS’ perception that the Governor had not shed her BJP background and tried to set up obstacles for the former.

The gap widened further with the State government not inviting the Governor for flag hoisting on Republic Day, and the Chief Minister alone hoisting it at Public Gardens, a year ago. This was followed by the ruling party’s decision to do away with the traditional address of the Governor at the joint session of the Legislature during the budget session.

The Governor was also absent during State Formation Day celebrations at Public Gardens, while the Chief Minister skipped the earlier events hosted at Raj Bhavan coinciding with Ugadi and Republic Day. The differences went to an extent that the Governor and the Chief Minister did not meet eye to eye on several occasions when they were expected to chair the proceedings together.

The situation is apparently further complicated with the Governor’s recent assertion that the State government was not following the official protocol and showing disrespect towards a woman Governor. She accused the government of not allowing her to hoist the national flag on the occasion of the 75th Independence Day and recalled how she was denied the Governor’s address and hoisting the Tricolour on Republic Day. She complained that the protocol was not being followed wherever she went and said that Constitutional offices should at least be respected.

The differences between the two offices were not uncommon in the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh where former Chief Minister and TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao had differences with the then Governor Kumudben Joshi. Differences between the two reportedly cropped up over the appointment of Lok Ayukta with NTR deciding to appoint a retired Delhi High Court judge as the Lok Ayukta. Ms. Joshi however, did not give her consent for the issue on the ground that she was not informed about the appointment in advance.

“Enraged with the Governor’s behaviour, NTR started a campaign against the institution of the Governor,” senior journalist and MIM MLC Syed Aminul Jaffri said. He recalled how the NTR government was toppled by N. Chandrababu Naidu when Krishna Kant was the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and said that the problems between the two institutions were not uncommon, as could be seen from the experiences in Maharashtra, West Bengal and some other States.

A look back into the events reveal that minor differences cropped up between former Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan and the Chief Minister initially. This was primarily on account of Mr. Narasimhan refusing to give his assent to a Bill pertaining to municipalities sent by the government. But they were patched up because of the initiative from both sides and the relations became cordial till Mr. Narasimhan relinquished the post.

Given the widening of gap between the two institutions, political circles are clueless on who will take the initiative to bridge the gap – whether the Chief Minister and his Ministers or the Raj Bhavan itself. Questions are also being raised on whether the Governor will prefer to keep the pending Bills with her or whether she will reject them. These is also no clarity as to whether the ruling party would convene a special session of the Legislature to pass the Bills yet again and send them for the assent of the Governor as, sources said, there is no time limit fixed for the Governor to to give her assent to the Bills referred to her by the Government.

Senior officials as well as legal experts say that these institutions commanded a lot of respect in the public eye and the differences, if continued to persist, would water down the image of the constitutional offices. They suggest that the two offices could instead confine themselves to their own cells as the duties and responsibilities bestowed on them by the Constitution were different. Understanding the subtle difference between the two posts would lead to greater coordination and it would in turn enhance the prestige of these offices, a senior official experienced in legislative matters said.

Another legal expert expressed concern that the differences, if persisted further, could end up in constitutional deadlock and thereby, could bring administrative process to a grinding halt, which is unwarranted at this juncture when the State had been struggling hard to cope up with the situation relating to some key aspects like finance.

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