CM Mamata confronts Dhankhar over proposed visit to Cooch Behar
The acrimonious relationship between West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and the state government surfaced again on Wednesday when chief minister Mamata Banerjee accused the governor of violating norms and planning to visit Cooch Behar district where four villagers were killed in firing by Central Industrial Security Force personnel at Sitalkuchi during polling on April 10.
The police is investigating the incident which took place at a polling centre. A youth was also murdered in Sitalkuchi on that day.
Dhankhar announced that he would fly to Cooch Behar in a Border Security Force (BSF) helicopter and meet local people in four assembly constituencies, including Sitalkuchi.
Making the details of his tour public on Wednesday, Dhankhar tweeted, “West Bengal Governor will reach Cooch Behar by BSF Helicopter at 11 am on May 13 to visit post-poll violence affected areas @MamataOfficial. Governor will visit places at Mathabhanga, Sitalkuchi, Sitai and Dinhata. Governor will meet people & media at CB Circuit House.”
Dhankhar also announced that on Friday he will fly to Assam where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers claim that people from north Bengal have taken shelter to escape the violence that erupted after the Bengal assembly poll results were announced on May 2. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) bagged 213 seats against 77 by the BJP. However, in Cooch Behar and other districts of north Bengal region, the BJP bagged 30 of the 54 seat. The TMC made up for this in the south Bengal districts that comprise the remaining 240 seats.
“Governor WB Jagdeep Dhankhar will be visiting Ranpagli & Srirampur camps in Assam where due to post poll retributive violence @MamataOfficial some people of WB had taken refuge for safety. Governor Dhankhar will be reaching Ranpagli Assam at 9.45 am by BSF Helicopter,” Dhankhar tweeted, tagging Banerjee.
On Wednesday evening, Banerjee shot off a letter to Dhankhar and cited rules and provisions.
“I find from social media that you are unilaterally proceeding to the district of Cooch Behar on 13-5-2021 and, sadly, I find that to be violative of the long-standing norms as evolved over several decades. I, therefore, would expect that you will kindly follow the well-established norms of protocol, as stated above and desist from abrupt decisions with regard to field visits,” the letter read.
Banerjee mentioned the Manual of Protocol and Ceremonials, government of West Bengal, home department, 1990.
Quoting the manual, Banerjee wrote “The programme for the governor’s visits to places in the districts is finalized by the secretary to the governor after obtaining the orders of the government. However, before recommending a request to the governor for acceptance, whether it is from a private party or a government institution, the secretary to the governor consults the government and the commissioner of the division and the district officer who are in charge of the proper execution of the overall programme.”
Banerjee also took objection to Dhankhar seeking report on post-poll violence directly from state police officials and bureaucrats.
“Also, kindly refer to my No 91-CM/ 2020 dated September 26, 2020, wherein, inter-alia, I had requested and specifically advised you ‘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,’” wrote Banerjee.
“I find that you are steadily ignoring this advice, solemnly rendered by me to you, and have been communicating with and dictating to the state officials. You have also been seeking reports from them directly. I urge you and again request and advice you to refrain from this. I am asking my chief secretary to go by this norm,” she added.
Around 8.30 pm, the governor responded to Banerjee’s letter through two tweets.
“In response @MamataOfficial urged her to revisit her stance & commit to constitution that by oath she is obligated to uphold & follow. This is time to address issues being faced by people in deep distress. Assured her of my fullest cooperation within constitutional parameters,” he wrote.
“Constitution mandates 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,” Dhankhar added.
Repeating their old allegation that Dhankhar works for the BJP, TMC spokesperson Tapas Roy said, “Unable to accept the BJP’s defeat, Dhankhar is acting out of frustration. On Monday, a five-judge bench of the Calcutta high court observed that the state government has taken action to contain the violence. Dhankhar is acting like a politician. It is unbecoming of a governor.”
The Bengal unit of the BJP supported Dhankhar.
“Instead of trying to stop Dhankhar from visiting violence affected areas, the chief minister should accompany him and meet the affected families. The governor is doing his job,” said BJP state vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar.
Banerjee said on May 7 that 16 people were killed since May 2 and announced a compensation of ₹2 lakh for each of the affected families. She said half of the victims were TMC supporters.
The BJP, on the other hand, has claimed that 17 of its supporters have been killed by TMC workers.
On Wednesday, a TMC worker who was assaulted in Birbhum district on May 6, died in hospital.
A Union home ministry team arrived in Kolkata on May 6 and met the home secretary and also called on Dhankhar on May 7. The team visited several districts.
Dhankhar had been speaking against the violence since May 2 and tweeting every day. He mentioned it even in the speech he delivered after reading out the oath of office to Banerjee last week.
Late in the evening, Dhankhar also wrote a long letter to Banerjee.
“I am appalled that a leader of your stature should be even contemplating that in making visits the Governor has to obtain orders of the government. Surprising that you became aware of this constitutionally untenable provision at a time when my visits are to share the pain and agony of suffering people. I am just not persuaded by your stance. There would be no sane takers of this,” wrote Dhankhar.
“From all over I am getting inputs of rampant loot, arson, killings, rape and other horrendous acts against those in opposition to your party. Democracy is being shamed. Well concerned people in the country and outside have drawn my attention to series of your steps during electioneering that laid the foundation of the situation in which the state has landed post poll,” the letter said.
“In time of such unprecedented crisis there was need to act in togetherness with all concerned, including the Governor. It is no time for optics or playing to gallery when we are in the midst of unprecedented post poll retributive violence,” wrote the governor.
“I can’t persuade myself to subscribe to the stance reflected in your communication. It betrays elementary ignorance of constitutional provisions. We both, being constitutional functionaries are subject to the constitution. I am sure you will at least concede supremacy of constitution, that by oath you are ordained to follow.....,” wrote the governor.
Dhankhar also alleged that the state government never showed any regard for the Constitution ever since he took over.
“Only to refresh your memory, ever since I took oath of office on July 30, 2019, there has been complete disregard of the rules of business framed under Article 166(3) of the Constitution qua Governor,” the letter said.