Was Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi’s dismissal of state minister Senthil Balaji — a decision he swiftly rolled back after ostensibly being advised to seek legal opinion by the Union Home Minister — a unilateral move or a kind of trial balloon to see if he could divide public opinion on the issue of acting against corruption? Balaji, who is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate for his alleged role in a cash-for jobs scam when he was transport minister in the then AIADMK government between 2011 and 2015, is continuing in the DMK government as a minister without portfolio. It goes without saying that Chief Minister M K Stalin should have asked the minister to quit but Governor Ravi by deciding to take matters in his own hands only muddied the waters. His move was seen as an assault on the federal structure as the Governor has no right to sack a minister without the consent of the Council of Ministers. In the 1974 Shamsher Singh case, the Supreme Court clearly outlined the powers of the Governor vis a vis the state government.
Ravi has had several earlier run-ins with the Tamil Nadu government. His refusal to clear bills, his deliberate omission of several paragraphs of the Governor’s address relating to Periyar and Annadurai and his advocating the renaming of Tamil Nadu as Tamizhagam have had adverse reactions statewide. He is seen as a pawn of the Central government out to do the bidding of his political masters. When governors shed even the barest veneer of neutrality and become cheerleaders of the ruling dispensation at the Centre, questions are understandably asked about the utility of the gubernatorial post. Such assignments have often become sinecures for ruling party veterans or loyal bureaucrats. Ravi himself was a long-serving IPS officer with a lengthy innings in the Intelligence Bureau. He was governor of Nagaland and played a key role in the peace talks with Naga insurgent groups. As a seasoned ex-bureaucrat with a thorough knowledge of the rules of service and constitutional provisions, his decision to sack the minister is inexplicable. The BJP is desperate for a decent showing in the southern state in the Lok Sabha election next year and Ravi, by choosing to take the moral high ground, is perhaps hoping to sway the electorate. However, his move may backfire as the Tamil people will brook no insult to their elected government. The DMK is more confident than ever of a repeat of its 2019 performance.