Mamata asked officials to not send me reports on post-poll violence: Jagdeep Dhankhar
West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar spoke to Vinod Sharma from Kolkata soon after administering the oath of office as chief minister to Mamata Banerjee. Edited Excerpts:
You apparently spoke to Mamata Banerjee on the need to promptly put a stop to post-poll violence. Are you reassured by her response?
It is shocking and sickening that, May 2 onwards, post-poll violence, arson, loot, killings and crimes against women and children have continued unbated. There have been virtually no deterrent steps by state functionaries. In such a situation, it is difficult to discount the widespread belief that it is state-sponsored terror. The underlying message is that there is no space for opposition. Such a state of affairs is antithetical to democracy’s essence.
Finding the situation worrisome, I summoned the state home secretary, DGP and Kolkata police commissioner so as to sensitise them. While they responded, the ground reality reflected a worsening of the situation. My office was flooded with reports of violence, in which vandalism was ruthlessly let loose on political opponents by torching their houses, shops and vehicles. The women victims suffered unspeakable torture.
During this time, I spoke to the CM several times to contain the violence. It has pained me that no concrete steps were taken. It was time to impart a tough message to state apparatus and police that for violent activities in their area they will be held accountable. Unfortunately a leader of her stature failed to rise above a partisan stance.
The CM had not been sworn in when the violence erupted. As many officers in the field were changed by the ECI after Bengal went into poll mode, is it fair to place the onus entirely at her doorstep?
There will be no takers for this [argument]. The home secretary conveyed to me that he has been instructed by her (CM) not to give a law and order update report asked by me, and also not to forward the reports that the DGP and the police commissioner had sent to him. Since noon May 3 (when the model code of conduct was lifted) she had all powers of CM as before.
You delivered a speech after administering oath to Mamata Banerjee. What made you break the convention?
The fact of the situation is that this was her [idea]. Before the oath, she indicated to me that she would briefly speak to the media after the oath , and I may also do so. Given the alarmingly worrisome scenario of law and order, I agreed.
However, to the media the horrifying scenario was not first priority, as it should have been. I confined my comments to my expectations from the government to urgently contain the violence and alleviate the sufferings of people.
As the President’s representative in the state, do you have some advice for the BJP, whose national president JP Nadda led protests against the violence. Must they not desist from taking to the streets amid the pandemic?
As the constitutional head, as per my oath under Article 159 of the Constitution, I am called upon to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution, as also serve the people of state. As regards to the BJP president’s visit, I would not like to reflect except that no one has indicated any violation of Covid protocol. The enormity of the situation requires all parties to come forward for confidence-building in the wake of the severity of onslaughts by loose cannons who are a law unto themselves. Imagine the scenario that people have been forced to flee their homes and villages to save themselves.
You as the governor have had a tumultuous equation with the Bengal CM. Are you sanguine about improved communication in her renewed term?
I take exception to this narrative. It is the other way. I have always confined myself to constitutional prescriptions. I would appreciate any instance wherein there has been transgression of constitutional prescriptions by me. On the other hand, the position of the governor has been sought to be compromised on many occasions with senior ministers and MPs using [the] filthiest of language in public domain and social media.
The cooperative federalism concept you invoked in your speech in Mamata Banerjee’s presence is a tango that takes two to work. Won’t the Centre, too, have to recalibrate its approach to the TMC regime for smoother ties?
I am appalled that there is no realisation of the situation that governance in the state is severely distanced from constitutional prescriptions and the rule of law. I only hope people including media outside the state focus on this.
I have been suggesting to her from the beginning that a confrontationalist stance with the Centre for the sake of confrontation would be against the interests of the state and its people. Surely, a state functioning within a state cannot be overlooked or countenanced. The bureaucracy is politicised to a level that bureaucrats are virtually frontline political workers. On numerous occasions, including publicly, I have indicated that if there are issues with the Central government, I would act shoulder to shoulder [with the state government].