February 9

The Governor-General of India as Head of State


More evidence is emerging that the Governor-General is head of state. The latest comes from an unusual source, an All Parties conference in India in 1928. The conference produced a report, the Nehru Report, which envisaged the Governor-General of India as the King’s Representative acting on the advice of the Executive Council as in Canada or Australia. 

(The Nehru in the name of the report was not the remarkable first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, as I had assumed, but his father, Motilal Nehru (1861-1931).  He was a very successful barrister who obtained the right to appear before the Privy Council in 1909.  Subsequently he entered politics and became for a time the Leader of the Opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly in British India.) 

Much of the Nehru Report was adopted by the British government, the British Parliament enacting the Government of India Act, 1935. The present Indian Constitution is based largely on that Act.

The reason I mention the Nehru Report is that it is referred to a report commissioned by Paul Keating’s Republic Advisory Committee, which was chaired by Malcolm Turnbull. The report was prepared by Mr. A G Noorani, and is included in Appendix 4 of the RAC report.

This says the 1935 act “conferred substantial autonomy on the provinces and sought to establish a Federation with the Governor-General as the head of state.”  

(Dominion status was not to come with the legislation, but was envisaged to follow it.  The war, Winston Churchill's intransigence  and above all the demand by the Muslim League for partition and the wish of Congress for a single India delayed that.)  

The republican movement should note that. The RAC after all consisted only of republicans – Paul Keating saw to that. So this was a report commissioned by republicans about India. And it described the Governor-General of India as…."head of state."  

….India chooses a republic…

After the war, it was decided to retain the parliamentary system with which Indians were familiar and which most Indian politicians believed was superior to the American system.  Lord Mountbatten became the first Governor-General of India after independence and Muhammad Ali Jinnah the first Governor-General of Pakistan.  The following extract  from the drama documentary, “The Last Days Of The Raj: The End of British India” gives some flavour of those momentous days



When India became a republic, they created the office of president, expecting the incumbent to play a similar role to a Governor-General. But as he or she was to be elected by a college consisting of federal and state politicians, they ensured the presidency would be political.  The college of course has always operated along party political lines.

As Mr.Noorani suggests, by 1974 the political situation in India was that the Congress Party had degenerated into becoming little more than an instrument of Mrs Gandhi’s will. And she had the numbers in the College.  She decided to offer the presidency to the safest  person she could find, one Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who secured 80% of the vote.

Soon after the presidency was put to its greatest test. In 1975 the High Court of Allahabad found Mrs. Gandhi had engaged in electoral malpractice and disqualified her from sitting in arliament for six years. After lodging an appeal there were demonstrations demanding that she resign.

She advised the President to sign a Proclamation of an Emergency. According to the advice to the RAC the President knew that the recitation in the Proclamation of an internal disturbance “to be false, Mr. Ahmed did not flinch.”  He signed the Proclamation and even extended it twice.

According to one account, she reminded him that he owed everything to the Congress Party.

I cannot believe that any of the Governors-General of Australia would have done this. He or she owes his allegiance not to the recommending prime minister, but to the Sovereign and through her to the people. Just think of any of our Governors-General. I am sure that not one of them would have signed such a proclamation.

There is indeed a significant difference between a crowned republic and a politicians’ republic.



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