Dhankar turns activist governor, not clear why

Diptendra Raychaudhuri

June 17, 2021

Kolkata: West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar is in Delhi from Tuesday evening. It is speculated that he is to brief Home Minister Amit Shah, and perhaps the Prime Minister Naredra Modi too about the ‘law and order situation’ of Bengal, the atrocities on BJP workers and its particular ‘nature’, and Mamat Banerjee’s ‘dharna’ at CBI office and its implications. He is likely to meet the President of India too.

However debated it may be, a governor is within his jurisdiction to give his assessment to the Home Minister and the Prime Minister on whether the state administration is being run according to the provisions of the constitution. And he can meet the president too, for the latter is a governor’s boss.

But what Dhankhar did yesterday was something out of the ordinary. He first met Prahalad Joshi, Union Minister of Coal, mines and Pariliamentary Affairs, and according to his own tweet had ‘useful interaction with him’ on ‘various issues’. Then he met Prahlad Singh Patel, Union Minister for Tourism and Culture, and deliberated upon matters pertaining to Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum and Asiatic Society. The aim of the discussion was, again according to his tweet, ‘enhancing impact of those bodies’. And then he met Arun Kumar Mishra, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Though he called it a courtesy meeting, it set the alarm bell ringing.

The question is whether it is within a governor’s jurisdiction to discuss administrative matters with the central ministers, or take some issues to the NHRC. West Bengal government is seeing red about Dhankhar-Mishra meeting. The TMC leaders suspect some game is on. Perhaps it is not unfounded, as by meeting Mishra the Bengal governor has donned the cap of an activist. But does it behove a governor?

As far as the role of the governor is defined in the constitution, it is clear that he is the custodian of the constitution, and a representative of the central government to a state. But yesterday Dhankhar acted as the representative of the state government when he met the union ministers and discussed with them various matters. It is not that he cannot do so, but only when he is requested by the state government, particularly the Chief Minister. But Mamata Banerjee has not sought his help in these matters. .

So, in a strict sense, Dhankhar usurped a role that has not been assigned to him. As a senior politician, he can of course give friendly advices to the union ministers on central bodies in the state. But he had no reason whatsoever to make it public through twitter. And what he had to do with the Coal Minister? Yes, there is an allegation of coal smuggling from coal mines of Bengal (and the BJP leaders have dragged Abhishek Banerjee in it without any substantial evidence so far), but the Coal Minister is not in charge of investigation on it. It is being conducted by the CBI.

Saugata Roy, a veteran TMC leader, has rightly questioned in what capacity the governor was meeting different ministers. He invoked Article 163, though unfortunately the article has kept the ‘discretionary’ powers of a governor wide open. Article 163 (2) says, “… the decision of the Governor in his discretion shall be final, and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in his discretion.” These powers conferred to the governor have been almost copied from Section 50 of the Government of India Act, 1935.

But according to convention, such discretionary power cannot be stretched to advising all central ministry establishments in the state or reporting the ground situation to NHRC chairperson. It clearly shows that the governor is going overboard in stretching his undefined discretionary power. The question is why he is doing so? What signal he wants to give?

Whatever it be, there is no doubt that his main target is the law and order situation in Bengal. Before he left for Delhi, he had met opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari and 50 BJP MLAs, who complained about ‘large scale attacks on BJP workers’. More significantly, after the meeting Adhikari spoke of, among other things, ‘protecting those who follow Sanatan dharma’ (which is another name for Hinduism). Thereafter Dhankhar not only dashed a letter to the chief minister slamming her for ‘post-poll violence’ which he described as the ‘worst since 1947’, but also made it public. In this letter he also criticised Ms Banerjee for protesting inside the CBI’s Kolkata office.

The governor’s ‘activism’ has come in the wake of two Bengal ministers’ arrest in Narada scam by the CBI and issuance of show cause letter to the then chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay under Disaster management Act for not attending Prime Minister’s meeting in the wake of Cyclone Yaas. That is why it raises a lot of questions the answers of which are not clear. Does the governor wants to keep the Mamata Banerjee’s government at tenterhook, or is he preparing ground for acting against it? Well, it seems the centre is arming itself with one after another weapon at present, only to act in the future when its arsenal will be full.


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One Comment

  • The Governor is not acting intelligently also.

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