Kolkata: For weeks now, there have been no public exchanges between West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who have had a tenuous relationship — and explicitly so — since the former was sworn in July 2019.
But two letters exclusively accessed by ThePrint show there’s no let-up in the trust deficit between the two sides.
The letters, exchanged between the governor and the chief minister last week, deal with Dhankhar’s concerns regarding the violence that followed the West Bengal assembly elections earlier this year. The elections resulted in a third consecutive win for Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
In a letter dated 8 October, the governor said top civil servants are providing a “cover to wrongdoers and law violators”.
He referred to a note he had sent to the chief secretary (CS) dated 8 June, seeking a report on what he described as the deteriorating law and order situation in the state and the post-poll violence. Four months later, he said in the latest letter, there has been no response from the chief secretary on this and other issues flagged by him repeatedly.
“Such constitutional slide down, outrageous culpable conduct and emasculation of bureaucracy, that too by the official at apex of state bureaucracy and on such flimsy pretext cannot be countenanced,” he wrote.
“CS and officialdom acts of omission and commission have unfortunately afforded shield cover to those who must be facing wrath of law. There cannot be a more glaring instance of abuse of position as public servant.”
In her response, sent the same day, Mamata cited earlier communications, telephonic conversations and a 7 October discussion in the Speaker’s chamber in the assembly on the issue of the governor’s direct notes to civil servants.
“It was unequivocally stated by me that all such matters on which any information is required from the state government may be referred directly to me, as enshrined in Article 167 of the Constitution and laid down conventions and practices in a parliamentary democracy,” she said.
“The officers are neither expected nor required to correspond directly with you.”
Mamata asked the governor to “refrain from surpassing the chief minister and making demands directly to the officers”, and called his actions “unconstitutional”.
“There is no provision in the Constitution that the governor can directly interact with or seek reports from the officers bypassing the chief minister. However, the chief secretary, home secretary and the director general of police have been advised to call on you generally once in a month as per your convenience so that they can brief you on policy matters and proposals for legislation,” the chief minister added.
In her letter, Banerjee referred to Article 167 of the Indian Constitution to support her stand on the Raj Bhavan’s right to seek information from the government. Dhankhar has also referred to the constitutional provision, which explains the duties of the chief minister with respect to the governor, on earlier occasions.
“It shall be the duty of the chief minister of each state to communicate to the governor of the state all decisions of the council of ministers relating to the administration of the affairs of the state and proposals for legislation; to furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the state and proposals for legislation as the governor may call for; and if the governor so requires, to submit for the consideration of the council of ministers any matter on which a decision has been taken by a minister but which has not been considered by the council,” it states.
Talking to ThePrint, constitutional expert Prof. Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay said “the governor has a right to ask for information from the council of ministers on state administration or legislative proposals”.
“It is the duty of the chief minister to furnish the information to him. If the chief minister challenges his rights, then she does not know the Constitution,” he added.
Commenting on the CM’s argument related to the governor’s directive to the chief secretary, Mukhopadhyay said, “The chief secretary is the principal officer of the state government. The governor will obviously call him for submission or furnishing information. And he is bound to provide him with that.”
There have been multiple public spats between Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and CM Mamata Banerjee over the past two years. Diatribes have been lobbed at press conferences, and letters of criticism exchanged between the two offices shared on social media or with the media.
Soon after taking over as governor in 2019, for example, Dhankhar told reporters that there was “some sort of censorship in Bengal” after officials of two districts reportedly refused to meet him. Days earlier, he had said in a media address that he felt “humiliated” at a Durga Puja event. Around the same time, again while addressing the media, he cited some allegedly disparaging remarks made by state ministers and asked Mamata to rein them in.
This June, he tweeted about a purported conversation he had with Mamata before she decided to skip a cyclone review meeting on Yaas with PM Narendra Modi, and said “ego prevailed over public service”.
A war of words erupted the same month — through individual press meets — as they questioned each other on charges of corruption.
In May, she had questioned his visits to areas affected by post-poll violence. A year before, she accused him of trying to “usurp powers” amid the pandemic.
Since June, however, there have just been two to three instances where the governor has tweeted to seek information or reports from the state government, related to the law and order situation, state finances and industry matters, including one where he questioned an appointment over the alleged violation of his authority.
Government @MamataOfficial seeks to reappoint 4th State Finance Commission (SFC) Chairman Dr. Abhirup Sarkar & members as 5th SFC in spite glaring constitutional failure to make recommendation to Governor.
Those who need to be held accountable surely cannot be rewarded. pic.twitter.com/WXz5te6ATw
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) September 22, 2021
Chief Secretary @MamataOfficial called on to brief me on alarming law and order situation post polls.
As he was not possessed of any inputs in this behalf no headway could be made. In this situation have urged him to update with all aspects and then update. pic.twitter.com/hHvtvPyw52
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) June 7, 2021
In these three months, Mamata met Dhankhar at Raj Bhavan once. The governor, meanwhile, met PM Modi once in Delhi on 11 August, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah twice — in August and September — in Delhi.
However, speaking to ThePrint about the latest letters, a West Bengal civil servant who didn’t wish to be named said the relationship between Mamata and Dhankhar is at its “worst-ever” stage.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)