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West Bengal has a History of Clash Between State and Governor, But Battle has Crossed Boundaries this Time

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (file photo)

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (file photo)

Mamata Banerjee is planning to send a letter to the President and the Prime Minister demanding the removal of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.

The arrest of three legislators of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, including two ministers, by the Central Bureau of Investigation on Monday took a controversial turn after the Speaker of the State Assembly termed the probe agency’s action based on the Governor’s consent “illegal and unethical”. The arrests prompted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to reach the CBI office in Kolkata where she began a sit-in demonstration. The TMC supporters too staged a protest and some incidents of stone-throwing were also reported.

In the past, Mamata Banerjee has not suppressed her anger over the Governor’s activities. Mamata Banerjee does not want to keep calm this time as well and she wants to see an end to this. According to sources, Mamata Banerjee is planning to send a letter to President Ramnath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding the removal of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. The ruling party is even considering taking steps to demand the removal of the Governor in the Assembly.

The clash between Jagdeep Dhankhar and the State is not new. Even before the Assembly election, the TMC has been complaining that he is interfering too much in the governance of the State. He openly opposed the State government by raising constitutional rules.

An appeal was also made to the President seeking Dhankhar’s removal on December 31, under sub-section 1 of section 156, citing the Governor’s ‘overactivity’. Trinamool MP Sukhendushekhar Roy also read out the Supreme Court verdict in the case of Shamser Singh vs Punjab Government on August 23, 1983, to show the limited power of the Governor. But this time the perspective is different. This time the conflict is more direct and the call to boycott the Governor is very rare.

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Just as Bengal got Governors like Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Syed Nurul Hasan, so have many Governors with whom the relations of the State and the ruling party have become more and more bitter. In 1967, Chief Minister Ajay Mukherjee clashed with Governor Dharamvir. Dharamvir sent a letter to Ajay Mukherjee asking him to prove the majority of the United Front within three days. Ajay Mukherjee replied that whatever happens will happen in the Assembly as per the pre-determined time. After receiving the letter, Dharamvir sent a recommendation to the Centre to dismiss the Cabinet. The conflict escalated.

The late Pramod Dasgupta, the former state secretary of the CPI(M), called former Governor BD Pandey ‘Bangla Daman Pandey’, meaning who always want to punish Bengal. However, the biggest resistance came during the tenure of former West Bengal Governor AP Sharma. In 1984, Sharma chose the name of Santosh Bhattacharya by not approving the Left-nominated candidate Ramen Poddar for the post of the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. The leftists were then starting to install the ruling elite on the campus, so the Marxists preferred the party ally Ramen Poddar. On the other hand, the choice of the Congress-Janata Party was Santosh Bhattacharya. The incident sparked outrage from the Left Front. It was decided at the meeting called by Left Front Chairman Saroj Mukherjee that no one from the party will attend the Governor’s meeting. Jyoti Basu himself did not attend a legal consultation meeting convened by the Governor at the time. He did not attend the swearing-in ceremony of the newly-elected minister Nihar Basu on January 10. AP Sharma’s logic was Ramen Poddar was trailing in the polls than Santosh Bhattacharya, so he made a reasonable decision. The Left countered that Gyanchandra Ghosh became the Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1954, who received fewer votes than Satyendranath Basu, the other contender for the post. In other words, the leftists did not want to give importance to the vote that day. Anger also spread inside the university premises.

Santosh Bhattacharya was prevented from entering the university on the first day and he left the post amidst constant obstacles. After AP Sharma, Umashankar Dikshit became the Governor of Bengal. It should be noted that in the report sent to the Sakaria Commission in the eighties, the Left said that there was no need for a rhetorical Governor.

Thus, conflicts between the State and the Governor have a long history. But many in Bengal believe that the conflict has never been so disgraceful. According to senior journalist Jayanta Ghoshal, “The role of the Governor is like that of Queen of Britain. He will listen, he will say less. Moreover, if he wants to say, he has the authority to send a report to the Centre. You can’t even comment publicly by tweeting or commenting on social media, because it is the Chief Minister or the Speaker whose constitutional position is being disgraced."

He also said that in Kerala and Maharashtra, there has been a State-Governor conflict in the recent past. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan was seen giving a public interview on Section 370. Jayanta thinks that it is not desirable in any way. The federal structure is being affected by this change. The Centre-State policy is based on the principle of cooperation.

Political analyst Bishwanath Chakraborty also acknowledged that the level of conflict that existed in the past and now is not the same. He says, “In the past, they fought with courtesy to each other. Now, the disrespect is out of control. I saw the Governor being called a mad dog. You will never find such a pattern in the past. History has shown that there have been very limited battles in the past. The issues were generally the appointment of the vice-chancellors, or about the majority. Which had been resolved also. The issues have sometimes been raised with the Governor’s speech. But this time the battle has crossed the boundaries."

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first published:May 18, 2021, 21:55 IST