Relations between Mamata and Governor hit new low

Published : April 23, 2020 22:51 IST

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar Photo: Debasish Bhaduri

Soon after the Centre and the West Bengal government locked horns over the visit of the Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCT) to inspect the COVID-19 situation in the State, a fresh war of words has broken out between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.

Responding to a letter and SMS sent by Dhankhar, Mamata, in a letter dated April 23, lashed out at the Governor saying, “You appear to have forgotten that I am an elected Chief Minister of a proud Indian State. You also seem to have forgotten that you are a nominated Governor… at least you should not ignore the wise words of Babasaheb Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly on 31/5/1949.

“‘We felt that the powers of the Governor were so limited, so nominal, his position so ornamental that probably very few would come forward to stand for election.’”

In the course of her letter Mamata cites more quotes from Ambedkar and the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission relating to the powers and functions of the Governor (or the lack of it). The letter, clearly aimed at driving home to the Governor the boundaries of his powers and functions, also brings to light the almost complete breakdown of relations between the Chief Minister and the Governor.

“In view of the above, you have to judge for yourself whether

a) your direct attacks on me;

b) your direct attacks on my Ministers and officers;

c) your tone, tenor and language, which, in the mildest words of extreme moderation, deserve to be characterised as unparliamentary;

d) your holding press conferences against the State government itself (of which you are Governor!)

e) your repeated and consistent interference in the administration of my Ministries and departments;

make it clear as to who has flagrantly transgressed constitutional dharma and even basic norms of decency between constitutional functionaries,” the letter stated.

Mamata also made public the exchange of letters that took place between Dhankhar and her on April 20 and April 21, and the SMS sent by Dhankhar to Mamata on April 22.

In the SMS, sent “at around 7 am” (as revealed by Mamata in her letter), Dhankhar wrote:

“Dear Chief Minister, 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 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….

So please call me URGENTLY as in this crisis period of immeasurable dimensions I would do my utmost to avoid a formal response to this most unthoughtful, unconstitutional communication….”

The “unconstitutional communication” referred to by Dhankhar was a four-line response by the Chief Minister on April 21 to his letter the previous day.

On April 20, Dhankhar had written to Mamata about several issues, including those relating to testing kits and problems in the Public Distribution System (PDS). “When initially you flagged the issue of testing kits in your press conference on 22nd March, 2020, I immediately took up the matter with the Union Health Minister only to be informed that there was disconnect with your figures, and we have adequate kits that were awaiting distribution by the State,” wrote Dhankhar.

Referring to the alleged irregularities in the disbursal of relief and distribution of free ration, the Governor wrote: “The situation of PDS in the State has reached alarming level of concern. Emerging scenario is indicative of PDS scam engulfing the State. Extreme stern and watchdog approach to bust it is peremptorily required to ensure it does not go beyond the dimensions of scams the State has already seen.”

The Chief Minister’s response on April 21, which so outraged the Governor was:

“Respected Governor,

I would like to thank you for your letter dated 20th April, 2020.

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 pointed out in her letter dated April 23, that the “four lines” she had written “do not even remotely or by any stretch of imagination have whisper which may be construed or misconstrued or twisted or distorted to be an insult to anyone….”

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