Updated: December 25, 2019 7:36:52 am
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar spoke with Ravik Bhattacharya on the rift between the state government and the constitutional head of state. Excerpts:
You have criticised the manner in which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other state ministers have hit the streets against Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA).
I never criticised the Chief Minister but only indicated that this is the time for her to get into governance mode. A Chief Minister is obliged to vindicate the oath to abide by the Constitution. I am amazed how a Chief Minister can lead an agitation against a valid law enacted by Parliament after animated participatory debate.
Another worrisome aspect is how crores from the public exchequer can be used in government advertisements professing opposition to NRC and CAA. I am startled that in such advertisements the Chief Minister is flagged by the Chief Secretary, the DGP and senior (government) officials. This is illegal. It emasculates the police and the administration.
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She has hit the streets with slogans that are inflammatory and unbecoming of her office. The CAA does not impact any citizen. Her senior MP and another TMC general secretary has written to me, stating that her actions are in her capacity as Trinamool Congress president. I am stunned at this fallacious logic. However, these leaders have tacitly conceded that as Chief Minister she cannot do so (protest against CAA).
As the Chancellor of state universities, you were prevented from entering Jadavpur University to preside over the special convocation. Ys your convoy was blocked by agitators and you had to return.
I went to the university to preside over the convocation in the interest of students. A handful of people held the system hostage…. It is difficult to repel the thought that all this is being orchestrated with the support of the university and the government.
There has been an effort by the state to usurp the authority of the Chancellor and immobilise his functioning by non-state actors in front and state actors in the background. These are indicative of a massive slide in the education scenario in the state. The enormity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that formal programmes of five universities have been cancelled without reference to me as Chancellor.
All these programmes had been duly authorised by me on request of the vice-chancellors concerned. No reason has been assigned for any of the cancellations; all cancellations have been at the last minute. Universities are in a political cage. To overcome this slide, and to contain this detrimental impact on career of students, I have decided to call a meeting of all V-Cs of universities where by virtue of being the Governor I am the Chancellor. I am also drawing the state government’s attention by writing to the Hon’ble CM that she cannot afford to be in a non-functional mode at such dangerous developments in temples of education.
The CM wrote to you to stand by the government at a time when violent protests against CAA is taking place in Bengal. How did you react?
For over four months the Chief Minister failed in her constitutional obligation to brief me. Her only letter to me is virtually an effort now to gag the constitutional head. I am appalled. She has objected to my tweeting and press meets without being specific. Just focus on her letter and you will find it is bereft of any fact.
I responded immediately and put the situation in perspective, calling upon her to engage in soul-searching…
The state government has brought in rules where you, as chancellor of university, will have to go through the government for communication with varsities, apart from other initiatives.
All who care for education would be, and as a matter of fact already are, shell-shocked. There is a worrisome paralysis in the education scenario in the state. I would address the issue when it comes to me. There has been outcry against this move by the academics – several former V-Cs have voiced their anguish and concern.
In the last four months you made public statements against the state government on more than 18 occasions.
I don’t agree. You need to be specific. I am surprised that the media turns a Nelson’s eye to the constant insults being heaped on a constitutional office without basis. They (government) have been virtually in warring mode from day one. It is painful for me to see the orchestrated narrative promoted by the media that the Governor is at loggerheads with the state government. The fact is, the government, its ministers are at loggerheads with the Governor for no reason.
I have taken all initiatives to discuss and deliberate with her (Banerjee) as an outreach, and I am sure she would, in the tradition of democracy, respond positively.
How is a de-escalation possible?
I am strenuously engaged in connecting with the Chief Minister. I have taken recourse to all mechanisms. Through the media I have even made an offer for a dialogue and communication — at a place, date and time chosen by her.
We both have constitutional duty to act in tandem. I would address all issues that she may choose to flag and would also get her version on unwholesome developments that have tarnished the image of the State, compromised and lowered the dignity of the office of Governor and Chancellor. I am not one to give up. I would keep up my efforts for a dialogue, as that is the essence of democracy.
You have been accused by state ministers of running a parallel government.
This is outrageous, preposterous and orchestrated to cover up failures. Would you, or anyone else, give any instance of this? Ministers use foul, abusive language against the Governor; and now the Chief Minister has taken the lead. This is a sorry sate of affairs. The charge rebounds to her. She has an iron grip on her party and the government, and that is why, at her command, ministers and the party followed her in observing total silence over the historic unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court on the Ayodhya (issue) that was nationally and globally applauded.
Ministers point out that the Assembly session had to be adjourned, allegedly because you delayed in giving assent to Bills.
My message under Article 175(2) to the Assembly deals with it comprehensively. Rather than considering the message as mandated by the Constitution the Assembly has been adjourned.
Senior ministers have given statements against you, including alleging that you are working for the BJP. How will you react?
The outbursts are part of a strategy to insult in public domain the high office (of Governor). This is shaming democracy and demeaning to the office of the ministers. They are acting on a script that needs to be given up.
It was said that despite a courtesy visit to the CM’s home during Kali Puja you did not speak with her during Constitution Day. Why?
I would never like point to the media and say, ‘please open up and be reasonable’. But now I am forced (to do that). Please look at the video and photographs I am making available to you… I (stood) with folded hands….
What a historic insult on thew Constitution Day; the constitutional head is put in a queue to address…(and appear) after former Lok Sabha Speaker, former CEC, two former Governors and a former Chief Justice of High Court. Can this violation of protocol be countenanced? She received them with warmth and was with them at the beginning of the programme at the Statue of Dr Ambedkar, participating enthusiastically and (taking part in) a photo session. (But) the constitutional head was not there. For the Governor she is just not around.
(That day) democracy was shamed, the Governor’s dignity was outraged, and protocol compromised. Media’s silence on this episode forces me to to think whether it is free or in chains. Judge me by the harshest standards but also seek answers from the other side. To my knowledge, someone is yet to take that courageous step in asking questions of the Chief Minister.
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