Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Monday stepped up his attacks on the state government, accusing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of turning West Bengal into a police state.
At a press conference in Raj Bhavan, the Governor said, “West Bengal has been turned into a police state. Police state and democracy cannot go hand in hand. Law and order has collapsed in the state. Maoist insurgency is raising its head. Terror modules are also operating from this state.”
He alleged that the government was conducting “electronic surveillance”.
“This is unique to the state of West Bengal, which is mounting electronic surveillance…violating all rules, all regulations and directives. Due to this surveillance, political, administrative business, police are all obliged to use WhatsApp and Facetime as modes of voice communication. This electronic surveillance has converted our state into a facetime state.”
Dhankhar said he would look at Article 154 of the Constitution as his office had been ignored for long by the state government.
“If the Constitution is not protected, I have to act. The office of the governor has been ignored for long. I will be forced to look at Article 154 of the Constitution,” he told reporters.
Article 154 says that the executive power of a state shall be vested in the Governor and exercised either directly or through subordinate officers.
Dhankhar slammed state police chief Virendra for his short reply to his queries, sent earlier this month, about the law-and-order situation. Police personnel were working as cadre of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), he alleged.
“How could the DGP [Director General of Police] be so arrogant, so dismissive and so callous?…How could such a dismissive statement be given to the constitutional head?” Dhankhar asked.
Following the DGP’s two-sentence response, Dhankhar last week summoned him by September 26. However, the state police chief did not turn up.
Instead, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in a letter to the Governor on September 26, expressed her anguish over his letter to the DGP and urged him to “act within the mandates of the Constitution”.
On Monday, Dhankhar said, “I fail to appreciate, Madam Chief Minister, what is amiss if the Governor wants the DGP to elaborate and explain the deteriorating law and order in the wake of orchestrated political killings, fake cases, political vendetta, ruthless quelling of Opposition? Most unfortunately the police, supposed to be the protector of human rights, have become a severe threat to these. Government is functioning on police crutches.”
The Governor claimed Banerjee had “found it convenient to sidetrack and skirt all the issues flagged to the DGP”, citing it as an example of politicisation of the police.
Dhankhar said Banerjee’s letter was “in essence in defence of the DGP, being in the vein of an earlier one for Kolkata cop [former city police chief Rajeev Kumar]”.
The Governor said the Chief Minister’s sit-in last year “to protect an IPS officer [Kumar]” was unheard of. “At that time it was by way of physical stance, now via a letter,” he added.
Dhankhar told reporters, “To shield those who need to be held accountable signals the death-knell of democratic governance — a situation staring us in the face, and now for long.”
Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Saugata Roy accused Dhankhar of giving Bengal a bad name. He added, “He is trying to strengthen the hands of the central government by making these kinds of statements. I do not accept such statements from the Governor. We have never seen this kind of talkative and cheap Governor in Bengal. I am ashamed of his statements and behaviour.”
Roy said Dhankhar had not properly read the Constitution. “Is there a provision in the Constitution that says that a Governor can write letters to officers? As per Article 167, the Governor can only seek information from the Chief Minister and write a letter. The Governor cannot write to any minister or officer of a state as per the Constitution. He is presenting a wrong description of the Constitution before the public. The DGP at least had the decency to reply to his letter.”
Lashing out at the Governor for his allegations about electronic surveillance in the state, the MP said, “He is setting a record for making unfounded and irresponsible allegations. Can he show any proof of electronic surveillance? Can he provide any data on this? Then why is he making such baseless allegations using his Constitutional post?”
State panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said, “He is denigrating his constitutional post. The BJP on the other hand is indulging in cheap politics. Assembly polls are just around the corner and there is some political agenda behind these allegations and statements.”
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh sided with Dhankhar. “Police Raj has been established in Bengal to throttle democracy. The police are being used against the Opposition. At a time when terrorist activities have ended across the country, it is still thriving in Bengal. The Governor has rightly pointed out the faults of the state government. Now it is up to the administration to rectify its faults.”
CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty backed the Governor’s remarks about electronic surveillance.
“The Chief Minister does not even trust her own shadow. In Bengal, everyone is under surveillance. Phone tapping is being done even on her party leaders and close aides. The democratic space in Bengal has been systematically destroyed. There is no space for the Opposition here.”
Senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan also accused the state government of unleashing an all-out attack on the Opposition.
Meanwhile, at the press conference Dhankhar also criticised the state administration for turning down Raj Bhavan’s request to increase its budgetary allocation. Sources in the government said the Governor’s office had written to the state secretariat recently, seeking an additional Rs 53.5 lakh for daily expenses.
But the administration expressed its inability to allot more funds amid austerity measures in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sources said the finance department had slashed Raj Bhavan’s budget by half, and set aside Rs 16 crore for its expenditure in the 2020-’21 financial year.
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