The story so far: The Tamil Nadu Assembly witnessed unprecedented scenes on January 9 when Governor R. N. Ravi, while delivering his customary address to the House, omitted certain paragraphs from the text prepared by the State government. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin later moved a motion to take on record only the transcript distributed to legislators, prompting the Governor to walk out of the House.
What has been the reaction?
Mr. Ravi did not wait for Mr. Stalin to finish reading the resolution’s text to walk out. Since then, there has not been any respite from the political discourse on the relationship between the Governor and the Chief Minister. While the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), its allies and a section of jurists, have been critical of Mr. Ravi’s acts of omitting certain paragraphs from the text prepared by the State government and subsequent walkout, the AIADMK and the BJP have defended the Governor saying the events in the House constituted a “personal attack” on him. Both sides claim there has been a violation of Assembly traditions. On January 12, a delegation of representatives of the Tamil Nadu government, including Law Minister S. Regupathy called on President Droupadi Murmu in Delhi and handed over Mr. Stalin’s letter to her, which sought her intervention to ensure that the Governor acts as per Article 163 (1) [Council of Ministers to aid and advise Governor] of the Constitution. The same day, in Chennai, Mr. Ravi hosted an event at Raj Bhavan to mark the Pongal festival, which was boycotted by the ruling DMK and its allies.
What led to the face-off?
In four months of Mr. Ravi assuming charge in September 2021, DMK parliamentary party leader T.R. Baalu demanded his resignation for not forwarding to the then President Ram Nath Kovind a Bill, adopted by the Assembly, seeking to exempt government seats in undergraduate medical and dental courses from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET). Even though the legislation is now awaiting Presidential assent, there are many other Bills which are awaiting the Governor’s nod. The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Bill, also on the waiting list, had been cleared in the form of an ordinance by Mr. Ravi on October 1, 2022. Days before the Assembly began its proceedings, the Governor kicked up a debate by expressing his preference for the term ‘Tamizhagam’ to refer to the State, instead of Tamil Nadu.
What did Mr. Ravi leave out in his address?
He left out the references to national and regional stalwarts, and the phrase “Dravidian model of governance”, which gained currency after the DMK returned to power in May 2021. He skipped describing Tamil Nadu as “a haven of peace” in the context of the law and order situation; its ability to attract “numerous foreign investments” and “becoming a forerunner in all sectors.” According to Mr. Stalin, the text of the address was approved by him before its distribution to the members.
How many times has Tamil Nadu faced such a situation?
This was the first time that a Governor chose to skip certain paragraphs. Even when relations between Governor M. Channa Reddy and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa during 1993-95 were at the lowest ebb, nothing of this sort happened. In neighbouring Kerala, however, at least three Governors had skipped sections during their Assembly address since January 1969.
Though a walkout by a Governor is a first for Tamil Nadu, in February 1965, the then West Bengal Governor, Padmaja Naidu, walked out of the Assembly without addressing the House, annoyed by the Opposition’s interruptions.
What are the larger constitutional issues being discussed?
The issue of deviation from the prepared text was immediately raised. Tamil Nadu Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu, in his interaction with the media after the Governor’s walkout, touched upon the matter of Presidents having to read out what the Centre had prepared.
On February 8, 1960, the then President Rajendra Prasad made certain corrections in the printed copies of the Hindi and English versions of the address which were received at the Lok Sabha Secretariat, an hour before the commencement of his address to the two Houses of Parliament, according to Practice and Procedure of Parliament by M.N. Kaul and S.L. Shakdher.
In his My Presidential Years, former President, R. Venkataraman, who held the post between 1987 and 1992, mentioned that when he delivered his address to both the Houses of Parliament on February 22, 1988, he changed the expression “My government” to “The government” as the original practice was a part of the British legacy. Else, he pointed out that “since the entire address is a statement of government policies and programmes, I left it to the government to present it in the form and manner it preferred.”
One of his successors, Pranab Mukherjee, in his The Presidential Years 2012-2017, reinforced Venkataraman’s position on the substance that went into the address and went on to state that he had “followed the rule book and conventions in both letter and spirit.”
He did not shy away from making suggestions at the appropriate fora, but that there was “not a single occasion in the five years of my tenure as president that my addresses created a controversy or embarrassed the government of the day.”
Was the Assembly right in passing a motion after the Governor’s address?
An issue that arose was whether any other business could be transacted immediately after the Governor’s address. Going by the interpretation of Kaul and Shakdher, the proceedings related to the Governor’s address cannot be called a sitting of the Assembly. This is because Rule 17 of the Assembly rules deals with the observance of order before, after and during the address. However, there is a precedent for other proceedings taking place on the day of the Governor’s address. The Tamil Nadu Assembly, on January 23, 2017, adopted a Bill on jallikattu in the evening sitting after the then Governor Vidyasagar Rao made his address to the House in the morning. Notwithstanding the precedent, Mr. Thennarasu said it was Mr. Ravi who had created such a situation. The Chief Minister, while moving the motion, referred to the relaxation of Rule 17 of the Assembly Rules.