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Bengal must enforce rule of law to reverse ‘flight’ of industrialists: Governor Dhankhar

Bengalis must fully exploit their potential and regain their past glory, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar tells ThePrint in an exclusive interview.

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Kolkata: There has been a “flight” of industrialists from West Bengal and the rule of law must be enforced to reverse it, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has said, adding that the time has come for Bengalis to “fully exploit their potential”.

Speaking to ThePrint in an exclusive interview Thursday, the first since his appointment as governor in July, Dhankhar said, “In Bengal, investment meets may be there, but actual investments must also come. It must be seen on the ground.”

The state had received investment proposals worth Rs 2.84 lakh crore at the fifth edition of the West Bengal Global Business Summit in Kolkata last February, with chief minister Mamata Banerjee claiming that it proved her government’s “credibility and accountability”.

The governor, who has met “all except half-a-dozen or so” leaders of industry in the state and representatives of ASSOCHAM and CII, said the state of industry in West Bengal was “great” 40-50 years ago.

“West Bengal is rich in both human and natural resources…But there has been a flight of leaders of industry.

“Time has come now that in the interest of Bengal and the nation, Bengalis must fully exploit their potential. They must regain their past glory…If violence comes in (the way) of this great progress, it must be abjured. The rule of law will have to be enforced,” he said.

In the freewheeling conversation Thursday, the governor spoke on a range of issues such as the need for academic excellence in the state’s universities, student bodies’ elections, fair enrolment and protection of voters, and the tendency of police authorities to be “judgemental” in their investigations, among others.

‘Only one book — Indian Constitution’

Talking about the Mamata Banerjee government, Jagdeep Dhankhar said he had no issues with the state government and he had “a friend” in the chief minister.

“She is a great lady. She had tied a rakhi (on my wrist) and for me it’s a lifelong obligation. I have no doubt that I am not going to have any problem with the chief minister,” he said.

His predecessors in the Kolkata Raj Bhawan were known to have running battles with the state governments — Gopalkrishna Gandhi with the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government over land acquisition in Singur, and Keshari Nath Tripathi with Mamata Banerjee over the security of doctors and also on her “appeasement policy”.

Many eyebrows were raised in the ruling Trinamool Congress when Dhankhar called on ailing former chief minister Bhattacharjee last month. When the governor visited injured BJP MP Arjun Singh in a hospital and spoke about the need for “peace” in the state, senior TMC leader Sougata Roy accused him of making “political statements”.

Now, Dhankhar has come under attack from the TMC for visiting Jadavpur University Thursday evening to “rescue” Union minister and BJP leader Babul Supriyo who was manhandled and stopped from leaving the campus by a section of students.

Rejecting the charges, Dhankar told ThePrint, “This man sitting in Raj Bhawan will have only one book — that is, the Indian Constitution.

“When one MP suffered injuries during an agitation, all I said was that we must avoid violence and law and order must not be a casualty. It was a fair statement that anybody should make. I have high regard for Sougata Roy as a parliamentarian. When his comment came that I was getting political, I was slightly hurt.”

The governor added, “Didi is an amazing human being. She gave me a jacket, which I wear with great affection. It fitted me well. She presented sarees to my wife which she loves.

“But certain things surely should not have happened. We must not have a state environment where home minister’s (BJP president Amit Shah’s) chopper could not land (not allowed to land for election rallies by the TMC government)… (Uttar Pradesh CM) Yogi ji’s chopper could not land.”

Also read: After JNU, Jadavpur University is the new ‘Left’ bastion everyone wants to storm


‘Vice-chancellors should have strong spine’

Stressing the need for vice-chancellors to be “spinally strong” for universities to prosper, Dhankhar said these institutions should not be treated “as a department or extension of the government”.

The West Bengal governor also expressed concern about academic standards in the state’s universities of which he is the chancellor. The number of universities is large and they have a great background but they are “yet to attain the height of excellence at the national level”.

“If a vice-chancellor is not spinally strong, surely, a university cannot prosper. I firmly believe both the government and the chancellor have a very limited role in running a university.”

On Thursday, West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee accused the governor of adopting a “partisan approach” by visiting Jadavpur University campus “without informing the elected government”.

Dhankhar spoke to Banerjee, who was in Delhi, four times, as well as the home secretary and the chief secretary. Officials said he decided to rush to the campus as the state police and the administration looked the other way even as the Union minister was being “thrashed” and stopped from leaving the campus.

‘Student elections must be held’

The governor told ThePrint that he had “gathered” elections to student bodies weren’t held since early 2017.

“If students’ elections are not held, that’s not wholesome for the life on the campus… I’m slightly worried about the state of universities. We should not emasculate the spinal strength of universities. We must have students’ elections.”

In 2017, the Mamata Banerjee government had brought new rules under which most of the office-bearers of the student bodies would be selected by heads of the institutions, and just a few to be elected. Students from various universities have been demanding the restoration of pre-2017 rules.

The elections to student bodies were due in January this year but the state government has been deferring it on one pretext or the other.

Weighing in favour of the students, Dhankhar said they must be allowed “to express their talent and exploit their potential”.

“Violence is antithetical to that. I am optimistic that whenever elections are held, there will be no violence… Every Bengali is a ‘bhadra purush’ or ‘bhadra mahila’. They don’t appreciate anyone who violates this culture. It’s in their DNA,” said the governor.

On free and fair elections

In an indirect reference to allegations of rigging and intimidation during elections in the state, Jagdeep Dhankhar told ThePrint that when he met chief election commissioner Sunil Arora, he appealed to him to ensure three things in West Bengal.

First, ensure one hundred per cent that anyone who can be a voter becomes a voter. Second, such a voter is able to cast his vote as per his own volition, “uninfluenced by any external situation”. Third, no one should under any circumstances be visited with “any consequence whatsoever” for the exercise of the franchise in the manner he or she did, he said.

‘Police authorities should not be judgmental’

The governor also said he flagged to the West Bengal government that senior police officials had held press conferences and “pronounced conclusions” about an incident involving a parliamentarian.

Though he didn’t specify, Dhankhar seemed to be referring to additional director general of police Gyanwant Singh’s press conference in which he had alleged that the violence in Barrackpore on 1 September — in which BJP MP Arjun Singh sustained injuries — was not spontaneous, but “planned”.

“That is antithetical to the rule of law. You have to conduct fair investigations. There can’t be fair investigations if the head at the top (of the police force) makes public statements and is judgmental,” said the governor.

Also read: Why Nitish, Mamata, Uddhav and Kamal Haasan need Prashant Kishor


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