In the unseemly confrontation between the West Bengal government spearheaded by the stormy petrel of the state’s politics Mamata Banerjee and the state’s Governor, Jagdeep Dhankar, propriety and basic civility have been the unfortunate casualties. Time honoured conventions have been trampled upon with both sides to blame. The damage to the institution of the Governor is great indeed and the undignified tiff has taken a huge toll. That the Narendra Modi government at the Centre has been a passive spectator, and at times an abettor is truly unfortunate because this crass partisanship is doing credit to nobody. The manner in which Dhankar has gone about deprecating the law and order situation in West Bengal at every public function, showing the host government in poor light has made him look partisan and slanted in his comments. As for Mamata, she has always been a rabble-rouser, crying ‘wolf’ at every available opportunity. Mamata has maintained not even a modicum of dignity in the manner in which she had dealt with the Centre, lowering the threshold of Centre-State relations to a new low and setting a bad example in propriety.
The Centre may have strong reasons for being constantly supportive of Governor Dhankar but if it is complicit in encouraging the Governor to take on the duly-elected government, it is bad politics and constitutionally an inappropriate stance. The Governor must act as a bridge between the Centre and the State, a role that Dhankar is not discharging faithfully by leaning too heavily towards the Centre without a thought to constitutional principles. In the circumstances, it may be a good idea to shift Dhankar to another state before further damage is caused to the institution. He must be told that in the new environment he must justify the responsibility placed on his shoulders by the Constitution. Dhankar’s shift should not be seen as a victory for Mamata who must be told in no uncertain terms that her shenanigans would invite appropriate action by the Centre which could include the imposition of President’s rule to ward off disturbing the constitutional applecart.
The latest flashpoint in the ugly drama has been the unbridled behaviour of students, teaching staff members and others in Jadavpur University, preventing Governor Dhankar from reaching the venue of the convocation of the university in his capacity of Chancellor. That the state government had a hand in this is amply clear. Dhankar could have defused the situation but he has proved unequal to the task by his brazenly partisan behaviour. He has woefully lacked tact and diplomacy and been saddled with a chief minister who is oblivious of time-honoured conventions or at least pretends that she does not care for them. That the blockade of Dhankar’s car at Jadavpur University was led by Trinamool workers bares the political involvement.
All said and done, the tension in Kolkata must be ended and all sources of confrontation must be plugged in the spirit of true federalism. By her excesses against the institution of Governor first by refusing to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act even though it had been passed by both Houses of Parliament and signed by the President, and later by the Jadavpur University events, the West Bengal chief minister has defied the Constitution. This would indeed set a dangerous precedent as is evident from the refusal of several other chief ministers to implement the law. The Centre cannot let this pass because this defies constitutional propriety. Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently indicated to the Meghalaya chief minister that he would consider changes in the law to meet certain points raised by him with regard to the citizenship law. This, he said, he would do after Christmas. That detracts from the finality of the new law. While responding positively to widespread agitation against the new citizenship law is in order, the confusion must be cleared once for all. Either the new law is final or it is not. There cannot be two ways about it. The Modi government needs to address this upfront rather than giving the impression that it is undecided on what it would do ultimately. The West Bengal government on its part must take action against those who insulted the Governor and put his high office into embarrassment.