The chief minister and the governor of West Bengal got involved in a war of words on 12 May after Mamata Banerjee wrote to him, claiming that his planned visit to the post-poll violence-affected Cooch Behar violated norms while Jagdeep Dhankhar hit back, saying he was discharging duties mandated by the constitution.
The governor is scheduled to visit areas affected by post-poll violence in District Cooch Behar on 13 May.
On 14 May, Dhankhar will visit camps in Assam where many Hindus from West Bengal have reportedly taken refuge due to rioting workers of the Trinamool Congress, mostly Muslims.
In her letter, Banerjee alleged that Dhankhar, exceeding his brief, had been directly communicating with state government officers and dictating them though she had earlier requested him to refrain from doing so.
The governor, in his reply, urged the chief minister to commit herself to the Constitution as she has taken an oath to uphold it.
“I find from social media that you are unilaterally proceeding to (the) Cooch Behar district on 13 May and, sadly, I find that to be violative of the long-standing norms as evolved over several decades. I, therefore, would expect you will kindly follow the well-established norms of protocol, as stated above, and desist from abrupt decisions with regards to field visits,” Banerjee’s letter to Dhankhar read.
Soon after receiving the letter, Dhankhar wrote back, saying that he had been following the constitution since taking oath as governor and he intended to visit Cooch Behar to share the pain and agony of the people suffering from post-poll violence.
“(The) Constitution mandates me under Article 159 that I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the law and that I will devote myself to the service and well being of the people of West Bengal. I would do all that is expected out of my oath and constitution,” Dhankhar said.
Mamata, in her letter, referred to the ‘Manual of Protocol and Ceremonials’ of the home department of the state government, which says that visits of governors are supposed to be finalised by the secretary of the governor after obtaining the orders of the government.
In the strongly-worded letter, Dhankhar said, “I am appalled that a leader of your stature should be even contemplating that, in making the visit, the Governor has to obtain orders of the Government.”
The West Bengal governor said that he could not persuade himself to subscribe to the stance reflected in the chief minister’s communication. “This is time to address the issues being faced by people in deep distress. I can assure you of my fullest cooperation within the constitutional parameters,” he said.
Banerjee referred to her letter written to Dhankhar on 26 September last year, in which she had urged him to “refrain from surpassing the Chief Minister and her Council of Ministers and communicating with and dictating the State officials, in excess of your power under the Constitution and directing them to attend before you”.
Mamata alleged that the governor was “steadily ignoring” this advice. At least 18 workers of the BJP have been killed in post-poll violence in West Bengal. Banerjee had said on 6 May that the dead included her party Trinamool Congress’s members. She said most of the killings were reported on 3 May when the law and order was under the Election Commission.
Political clashes left a number of people injured in the state since the results of the assembly elections were announced on 2 May when the Trinamool Congress returned to power with a landslide victory.
Earlier in the day, the ruling Trinamool Congress, which has shared an acrimonious relation with Dhankhar since its previous term in the government when he assumed office in July 2019, flayed him saying he was behaving in a manner “unbecoming” of one holding the gubernatorial post.
“Being a lawyer I cannot recall any another instance of a governor behaving in such a manner… I think it is aimed at influencing the judiciary as a case is being heard in the Calcutta High Court,” AITC MP Kalyan Bandyopadhyay told reporters.
The Calcutta High Court is hearing a case on post-poll violence in the state. A PIL had been filed by a lawyer who raised the issue of violence taking place in various parts of the state after the state assembly election.
“Dhankhar is coming to disrupt the peaceful situation in Coochbehar,” state minister Rabindranath Ghosh, who hails from the north Bengal district, said.
Countering the Trinamool Congress’s charges, BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya wondered why the ruling party would object if Dhankhar were to visit a place rocked by political violence and the governor wanted to be on the side of the affected people.