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Open war between Mamata and Dhankhar hits a bitter flashpoint

Three months after he assumed his office in Kolkata Raj Bhavan on July 30, 2019, Jagdeep Dhankhar started using his official Twitter handle to post his critique of the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government on various issues.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: February 4, 2022 6:52:12 am
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar exchanges greetings with state Chief minister Mamata Banerjee during the 73rd Republic Day parade at Red Road, in Kolkata, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (PTI)

With Mamata Banerjee blocking Jagdeep Dhankhar on Twitter and the latter responding with a tweetstorm, the long-running face-off between the West Bengal Chief Minister and the Governor has reached a flashpoint, getting more bitter and personalised. The editorial in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) mouthpiece, Jago Bangla, with the heading ‘Ter Paben’ (he will face the consequence) Tuesday signalled that the showdown will escalate.

Three months after he assumed his office in Kolkata Raj Bhavan on July 30, 2019, Dhankhar started using his official Twitter handle to post his critique of the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government on various issues. However, till November, 2019, when the “Bulbul” cyclone struck Bengal, the relations between the two sides had been bittersweet.

Dhankhar had then even seemed to share Banerjee’s views that there should not be any politics over the distribution of relief material to the cyclone-affected people.

However, the conflict erupted in December 2019 with both of them exchanging stinging letters after the Governor summoned the CM to Raj Bhavan to “personally update” him on the protests raging against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the state.

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In a letter to Dhankhar then, Banerjee stated, ‘’I am really sorry to see your frequent tweets and press briefings criticising the state government and also involving the senior officers of the state. You would no doubt appreciate that the prime focus of the state administration at present is to maintain a peaceful situation as against what is going on throughout the country,” adding that it was his “constitutional obligation to support the state government”.

The tussle intensified after the imposition of lockdown following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, with the Governor regularly pulling up the state administration and police for their “failures” in enforcing the lockdown effectively. On April 15, 2020, he tweeted, “Lockdown protocol has to be thoroughly implemented to ward off #coronavirus. Police and administration @MamataOfficial failing to effect 100% #SocialDistancing or curbing religious congregations….”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Governor Jagdeep Dhankar. (Express photo by Partha Paul/File)

The conflict took a new turn in September 2020 as the CM shot off a nine-page letter to the Governor, criticising him for questioning the then Director General of Police (DGP) Virendra’s handling of law and order in Bengal. Dhankhar had lashed out at the state police chief for sending a “two-line” reply to his queries about the law-and-order situation and summoned him.

In her letter, Banerjee reminded Dhankhar that he was an “executive nominee” of the President, whereas she was “the elected representative of the people of West Bengal”. She wrote, “I request, aid and advise you, in the capacity of the Chief Minister of this state, to act within the mandates of the Constitution and refrain from acting on a political mandate, if any, to destabilise a democratically elected government,” adding “Refrain from surpassing the Chief Minister and her Council of Ministers and communicating with and dictating to state officials, in excess of your powers under the Constitution and directing them to attend before you.”

The row flared up when five TMC MPs sent a memorandum to President Ram Nath Kovind in December 2020, demanding the Governor’s immediate removal.

Following the outcome of the Bengal Assembly elections last year, in which the TMC swept the polls, the Governor became vocal on post-poll violence that erupted in the state. Close on the heels of Banerjee taking oath as the CM for the third consecutive term, Dhankhar tweeted, “While wishing @MamataOfficial on assumption of office of CM called upon to effect governance as per Constitution & rise above partisan stance. There is no alibi for inaction as MCC ended at noon on May 3. Urged CM to end senseless unprecedented post poll retributive violence.”

The latest round of war broke out after the Governor charged that people view Bengal as a “gas chamber of democracy” and alleged “trampling of human rights”. Also, in a note dated January 28, Dhankar had asked chief secretary Harikrishna Dwibedi to brief him on alleged obstructions to the movement of Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, at Netai during his 7 January visit there. The Governor had earlier sought the physical presence of the chief secretary and the DGP on the matter.

On 31 January, following a Cabinet meeting at the state secretariat, Banerjee spoke to the media and said she was forced to block Dhankhar on Twitter because of his “unethical and unconstitutional” statements. She alleged that the Governor was acting like a “super watchman” and treating government officials like “his servants”. Dhankhar responded with a series of tweets on the “essence and spirit of democracy”, saying the CM’s move was “against constitutional norms”.

The TMC has now proposed to move a motion against the Bengal Governor in Parliament, planning to step up pressure on the BJP-led Centre over its demand for his removal. TMC MP Sukhendu Shekhar Roy said, “We are preparing to bring a substantive motion against this Governor. Our Chief Minister wrote more than once to Prime Minister demanding removal of this Governor. She also explained in her letters why she want this. But there has been no cognisance yet from the PM’s Office of these letters. So, we have no option other than bringing a motion against the Governor in Parliament.”

The Opposition Congress said it will back the TMC’s move against the Governor. The Congress’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Chowdhury, who is also the party’s Bengal unit chief, said, “To maintain federal structure of the country and democracy in Bengal, Congress has no problem in supporting TMC if they bring such a motion in Parliament.”

The CPI(M), however, criticised both Dhankhar and Banerjee. CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “How long will this quarrel last? She blocked Governor, good thing. But by making the announcement, she has expressed her opposition to the constitutional office.” Another CPI(M) leader Parthapratim Biswas said, “We are against the Governor’s post. But if there is a Governor, it is responsibility of both Chief Minister and Governor to maintain dignity of that post.”

Expectedly, BJP state president Sukanta Majumder went after Banerjee, saying “The state government is not above the Constitution. The CM has blocked the Governor on Twitter. This is an unprecedented event in the democracy of the country. Never before has this happened in any state. The CM has done this for fear of not being able to answer the questions that the Governor used to ask her government and the officials while performing his duty as the defender of the Constitution.”

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