Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has escalated her stand-off with state Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar by accusing him of addressing her in “unparliamentary tone, tenor and language”.
Both the constitutional and political heads had been attacking each other over the state’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, through letters, press statements, official communications and Twitter posts.
On Thursday night, however, Mamata shot off a five-page letter to Dhankhar, reiterating that she is the “elected” head of the state and that the Governor, being in a ‘nominated’ post, had restricted powers.
Quoting Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Mamata wrote that the Governor has “no power to interfere with the internal administration of a provincial ministry”.
In her letter, she further added that Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s “tone , tenor and language, which in the mildest words of extreme moderation, deserve to be characterised as unparliamentary”.
Minutes after the letter landed at Raj Bhawan, Governor Dhankhar tweeted calling the communication “outrageously factually wrong and constitutionally infirm”.
A communication @MamataOfficial has been received.
Outrageously factually wrong and constitutionally infirm.
My initial response will be shared with media around 7.45 PM today.
And a final one tomorrow at 11 am.
People of the state need to know the real picture.
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) April 23, 2020
He also put out the rebuttal he had sent to the chief minister, adding that the letter was his initial response and that there would be a final one on Friday.
Initial Response @MamataOfficial. Final one tomorrow. People need to know all. State and people cannot be made to suffer at the hands of those who compromise constitutional prescriptions. None is above Law. pic.twitter.com/FA3jIFpipy
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) April 23, 2020
Letters fly between Raj Bhavan and Nabanna
The chief minister’s Thursday letter accuses the Governor of ‘directly attacking’ her and repeatedly and consistently interfering with her administration.
The chief minister also quoted from the Sarkaria Commission report saying that “it is desirable that a politician from the ruling party at the Union is not appointed as Governor of the state which is being run by some other party”.
Mamata also quoted relevant constituent assembly debates and Sarkaria commission recommendations and observations to argue that the state Governor has no powers compared to the elected government.
In her letter, Mamata also released three official communications that the Governor had sent her, saying that his “expostulation” forced her to release them in the public domain for people to judge who has “fragrantly transgressed constitutional dharma and even basic norms of decency between constitutional functionaries”.
One of the communications is a text message that the governor had sent to the chief minister at 7 am on 22 April. The governor’s text message was in response to a letter that the chief minister had sent him on 21 April.
According to Thursday’s letter, the governor’s SMS read, “Your response yesterday has enormously shocked me. It is insulting to the office I hold. We both are constitutional functionaries in the state. It is not a fiefdom of an individual to be run in a whimsical manner. Your response makes the position of constitutional head irrelevant. This is not so.
“ I have over the months taken all indignities in a spirited manner hoping there will be amends. This letter dashes my optimism. My patient mode and accommodating approach has been inappropriately evaluated at your end. I still find it expedient to give a try in the interest of the people of the state.”
The governor appears to have been irked by the chief minister’s response to his queries on the state’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. He had on 20 April written to the CM requesting her to “unlock the logjam” between Raj Bhavan and Nabanna, the state secretariat, and be in “functional mode” to combat the Covid-19 battle and contain it.
He also raised the issue of testing kits and the PDS problem and requested the chief minister to “spare time to engage with him on critical issues”.
His two-page letter, however, was met with three lines from the chief minister.
“I would like to thank you for your letter dated April 20. You would, no doubt appreciate that the entire state government machinery is now engaged to fight against Covid 19 pandemic. This is for your kind information,” Mamata wrote on 21 April.
Governor responds with letter of his own
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar came up with a five-page rebuttal within three hours of the chief minister’s letter.
Quoting constitutional provisions, relevant articles and rules of business, he listed the chief minister’s duty towards the Governor of the state.
“There has been total failure at your end all through as regards compliance of constitutional prescriptions qua the constitutional head. The enormity of the situation and lapses at your end are that in spite of repeated communications for compliance you have black hold all my communications resulting in virtual negation of Articles 166 and 167 of the Constitution,” wrote the Governor.
Stating that the state government’s response to the Governor’s communication had been ‘outrageous’, he wrote, “Since July 30, 2019, I have done my utmost in most persuasive manner to solicit to adherence to Constitutional prescriptions and to secure that Government of the day is carried in accordance with the Constitution. Towards this, I have sent you repeated communications. You will gather from all this that there has been an outrageous, flagrant disrespect of Constitutional prescriptions and Rules of Business at your end and that of your officials. So far no communication whatsoever has come to be shared with me in terms of Rule 27 aforestated. This pathetic approach also did not derail me from my persuasive mode to work in togetherness with you.”
Responding to CM’s letter that released the Governor’s text messages to her, he too released a text message he sent to Mamata on 15 April. “I do not appreciate the outbursts. Time for composed interaction. The Governor is not expected to be in sleep mode when the State is facing stressful challenges,” the text message reads. “ Why adopt confrontational and adversarial stance qua Governor ! Personal rapport should never be casualty. Would plead again – re-visit your approach qua Constitutional Head. Regards.”
Finally, the Governor added, “I never had any benefit of any advice or input to me either by you or your Ministers. Your stance all through has been one of incommunicado with the Governor. Ministers of your Government have been at large like ‘loose cannons’ in public domain using most demeaning language for the Governor. Your silence unmistakably leads to inference of your approval.”
“The people would be wizened about your stance once tomorrow I make full disclosure of details and documentation that will startle all. I never wanted to take recourse to this but in view of your factually untenable stand and your going public this has become a compulsive need,” he added.