The exchange of letters between the highest constitutional functionaries in West Bengal continued with Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar replying to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s strongly worded five-page letter of April 2 with a scathing 14-page attack on April 24. He described Mamata’s communication as an “alibi strategy” that “emanates from a script that seeks to cover up monumental failures…”.
In her letter Mamata had accused the Governor of overstepping his boundaries and attacking her and her Ministers in “tone, tenor and language, which, in the mildest words of extreme moderation, deserve to be characterised as unparliamentary”. With a series of quotes from B.R. Ambedkar and the Sarkaria Commission, she reminded Dhankhar of the limits of the powers and functions of a Governor. This was in response to a letter sent by Dhankhar on April 20, in which he had written about the State government’s handling of COVID-19-related issues.
In his reply to Mamata’s letter, Dhankhar wrote on April 24, “I can figure out that your entire strategy is crafted to deliberately divert people’s attention from your abject failure in combating and containing coronavirus in West Bengal. Your appeasement of the minority community was so explicit and awkward that as regards a question about the Nizamuddin Markaz incident by a journalist, your reaction was ‘Do not ask communal questions.’” He urged the Chief Minister to “disable her political antenna, shun confrontationist approach and be in action mode” for the sake of the people of the State “whose survival is at stake”.
The letter raised a list of issues, claiming that if they were not addressed then the State would be facing a “catastrophe”. “There awaits the catastrophe if the healthcare system is persistently ignored; if the COVID cases incessantly coming to the hospitals are consistently denied and suppressed, if the quarantine facilities remain for namesake, if the tests are not allowed honestly, if the frontline health workers are treated inhumanly by not providing them quality PPE and protection from hooligans; if the medical procurements in this monumental crisis is allowed to be mired in malpractices, if the already politicised PDS is throw open for wild loot by unscrupulous people, if the State fails in preparing a lockdown exit policy, and if the stranded people are left lurking into uncertainty. And, if the State does not prepare itself for the financial prudence to meet the expenditure for the unavoidable, rather existential needs of the immediate future. There are many ‘ifs’, which people are raising, and [which are] being deliberately ignored. Pretention leads to even bigger catastrophe,” the letter stated.
Dhankhar even attacked Mamata’s public appearances and area inspections during the lockdown, as “theatrics and politicking”. The letter did not confine itself to the present COVID-19 crisis in the State either; it also criticised Mamata for her anti-CAA protests. “A history of sorts, though unwholesome, was created when you for days in a row took to the streets, virtually abandoning governance, to sustain anti CAA movement,” he wrote. Mamata’s anti-CAA movement did serve to put a break on the rapid strides the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was making in the State, particularly after winning 18 of the 42 seats in the Lok Sabha election in 2019.
Countering Mamata’s allegation that as Governor he had “flagrantly transgressed constitutional dharma and even basic norms of decency between constitutional functionaries,” Dhankhar wrote, “I have to be faithful to my oath and surely I cannot be fiddling in Raj Bhavan when people of the State are stressed. I cannot turn a ‘Nelson’s eye’ to serious issues of distressed people.”
Although Mamata did not immediately react to Dhankhar’s letter, senior Trinamool leader Om Prakash Mishra told Frontline : “The Governor is completely out of line. He wishes to substitute the activities and role of the State government and translate his office as the agency for the promotion of the political ends of the BJP. This is not only unprecedented, but exposes the political design of the ruling party at the Centre.”