He was elected MLA on April 16. But even after two weeks, the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) Ballygunge MLA and former Union Minister Babul Supriyo is yet to take oath as a legislator because of a continuing conflict between Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar — who will preside over the swearing-in ceremony?
The Governor on April 30 (Saturday) assigned the job to Deputy Speaker Asish Banerjee, citing Article 188 of the Constitution that states new members of legislative assemblies must take “oath before the Governor, or some person appointed in that behalf by him”. According to convention, it has always been the Speaker but Dhankhar since last year has refused to allow Biman Banerjee to administer the oath.
Complicating matters further, Asish Banerjee on Monday refused to follow Dhankhar’s instruction, saying a deputy Speaker functions only in the Speaker’s absence. “If I get any order from Raj Bhavan, I will write back saying I will not be able to administer the oath of office to Supriyo when the Speaker is present,” he said.
The same day, state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee and Biman Banerjee met to discuss a course of action to resolve the dispute and Supriyo appealed to Dhankhar to allow the Speaker to administer the oath. But the Governor turned down the MLA’s request on social media, saying it was untenable under the Constitution. Dhankhar also noted that the MLA met Biman Banerjee on April 27, 11 days after he was declared elected, to discuss the oath-taking ceremony whereas, according to the Constitution, the former Union minister should have approached him first.
On Tuesday, the former Union minister appealed to the Governor again to “kindly” consider his request and put an end to the matter. “I know that it is the prerogative of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar (on appointing the person to administer the oath of the office) and the rules regarding Article 188. But sometimes appropriation of rules is required than the application. I feel that it is ethically incorrect to allow the deputy Speaker to administer the oath, bypassing the Assembly Speaker who is very much available. I agree with what the deputy speaker has said on this, that he will refuse the duty to administer the oath of the office at a time when the Speaker is available. I appeal to the Governor to be a little kinder over this matter,” Supriyo said on the sidelines of an event in Kolkata.
Reaching a compromise
Sources said the government, to put an end to this episode, would send a letter to the Raj Bhavan, requesting Dhankhar to administer the oath to Supriyo.
A similar crisis arose last November after TMC candidates won from Khardah, Dinhata, Santipur and Gosaba. At the time too, the Governor appointed the deputy Speaker to conduct the swearing-in ceremony. But Dhankhar relented after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stepped in to ensure the MLAs could be sworn in by the Speaker.
Banerjee herself faced a similar predicament last September after winning the Bhabanipur Assembly by-election. She needed to win the seat and get sworn in as a member of the Assembly by November 4 to continue as chief minister. But the Governor took away Biman Banerjee’s power to administer the oath of office and entrusted the job to the deputy Speaker. On October 1, the government wrote to Dhankhar, urging him to authorise the Speaker to conduct the ceremony but the Governor sought a gazette notification on the by-poll result. This forced the TMC to reschedule Banerjee’s swearing-in ceremony, which was initially planned for October 4. After a gazette notification was issued, Dhankhar administered the oath to Banerjee on October 7.
In March, Dhankhar requested that his speech in the Assembly be telecast live but the Speaker did not allow this. Biman Banerjee has also complained about the Governor interfering with his duties on several occasions. Last December he even wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, accusing Dhankhar of hindering the smooth functioning of the House.
Professor Biswanath Chakraborty of Rabindra Bharati University’s Department of Political Science told The Indian Express that there was no precedence in West Bengal’s history of a Governor entrusting the deputy Speaker to administer the oath of office to an elected MLA when the Speaker is available. Dhankhar, he added, was overstepping.
“The convention says that the Governor will administer the oath to ministers while the Speaker will do the same for the MLAs. However, the Governor is pointing at the rule book when appointing the deputy Speaker to administer the oath. But one cannot just refer to the rule book and not maintain the convention. When the Speaker is available, he should be the person to administer the oath to the MLA. This stance of the Governor has come from the strained relation he shares with the Assembly Speaker,” he said.
Chakraborty added that both the state government and Dhankhar were “crushing the spirit of parliamentary democracy” in West Bengal. “We have seen for the last two years how both parties did not follow the norms of parliamentary democracy. On several occasions, the Speaker has overstepped and, on many occasions, the Governor has done the same thing. This is completely unwanted from both sides,” he added.