Kolkata: Two of the foremost constitutional chairs in West Bengal, those of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, aren’t quite seeing eye to eye. To lend a perspective of what went wrong between the two and if at all the fractures can be mended, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar spoke to News18’s Sougata Mukhopadhyay in an exclusive interview.
This is the first of the two-part interview:
Less than two months ago you set aside your initial differences, landed up at Banerjee’s Kalighat residence along with your wife, and spent time at her Kali Puja functions. Why did the relationship nosedive after that?
I hope you get an occasion to get the chief minister’s version as well. You will be surprised. I have been here for four months. I have visited nine districts. At none of the places have the district magistrates or the senior police officers seen me. I can appreciate a political party taking a stance. It is their discretion. But the district administration must engage itself in adherence to propriety and protocol. It has been violated 100%.
The chief secretary of the state has not found time to see me now for two months… a situation you will find nowhere. I ignored the serious indignity that happened on October 11.
Do you mean the Durga Puja carnival celebration controversy?
Yes. It was virtual censorship of the constitutional head. Live coverage was controlled by the state for four-and-a-half hours. And I was shown not for four seconds. I was made to sit where I was unable to witness a single live programme. There were more than 60.
It reminded me of what Aurangzeb did to Shivaji. But I thought, as is my style, I don’t believe in aggression. I believe in persuasion.
As the constitutional head, I am guided by only one script and that script is the Constitution. I cannot play to anybody else’s tune. I play only to the tune given to me by the Constitution.
I took several serious initiatives, including going to the Puja and spending more than two hours (at Banerjee’s house). What I said to the media was that I came here with a pure heart and I am leaving with a pure heart.
When (cyclone) Bulbul happened, the entire media put it on the front page or and as the first lead story on television. I appreciated her efforts. But look at my pain… the failure of the constitutional provision. The chief minister is obliged under the Constitution to brief me on such issues. When the failure continued for too long, I wrote a letter to her, inviting attention to her constitutional obligation that has never happened. And it has shocked me.
Was that letter answered?
That letter was answered surprisingly by the principal home secretary. Can you have a situation like this? And there are several communications that have not been responded to so far.
Do you think political considerations are getting in the way of the functioning of the administration?
I think this question should be put to her, if you get an opportunity. Ask the chief minister that can she see her ministers calling the Governor a “tourist”.
Another minister publicly says the only way for the Governor to connect with the chief minister is through “Didike Bolo” (a programme of mass connect started by Banerjee). She has to respond.
Yet another minister says he is a tourist because a new one who comes without an invitation is a tourist. And it doesn’t end here. The filthiest of language has been used. Has she ever indicated or flagged an issue to me?
A puja has been organised in the Raj Bhavan for the last several decades. On November 1, publicly she called my secretary (and said), “Tell the Governor why he is organising a parallel puja?”
Ministers were around, the DGP (Director General of Police) was around, the press was around. What message is she giving? I wrote a letter to her because it (her statement) was also put out in the media. She is yet to respond. Factually, she was wrong and her outburst was totally unbecoming of the office she holds. Still I kept a low profile.
In retrospect, do you think, by any chance, all this may not have begun in the first place had you not landed up at Jadavpur University to rescue Union minister Babul Supriyo?
I will not share why I landed there. She knows all about it. If, as a guardian of the students, after exhausting all the four layers (of connection protocol) there was no one to connect, the most unseemly spectacle was taking place, was I to throw my hands up in despair? What will happen to my oath? My oath was to protect the Constitution and serve the people of West Bengal. And I am not the one in confrontation.
I hold a position where I have to do everything under the sun to be persuasive to make them see reason.
I wrote to her 50 days ago, asking her to flag the issues she would want me to raise at the 50th Governor’s conference. There was no response. I reminded her. The response came on November 22 when I was in Delhi.
The three points she raised surprised me. Many more could have been raised. But I raised all three points, as they were, at the conference. I have to take care of the interest of the state. So if she now wants to politicise everything, I have no issues. It is her domain. But if she thinks she can convert Jagdeep Dhankhar, the West Bengal Governor, to a politician, then I will not allow that to happen.
Banerjee accuses you of adorning a nominated position and yet trying to run a parallel administration by keeping the government at bay. How do you respond?
I have enormous regard for Mamata ji, she is a very senior politician. She is a chief minister for the second term. How can anyone take her to be so weak to be running even a part of her government?
Let me give you an example. The entire world rejoiced after the Ayodhya judgment. There was a big sense of relief. But her control was so absolute that nobody in her party or in the government could say a word. That’s why I call her the Iron Lady of Bengal.
How can anyone run a parallel government? If I were running a government, do you think the chief secretary will not see me for two months? Do you think no collectors or SPs (superintendents of police) will come to see me? Do you think my letters will not be replied to? Do you think education will be in such a degraded state? And would the higher education department be a black hole for my communications? You must ask her what makes her feel that the Governor is running a parallel government.
The ruling dispensation sees you as a Governor who publicly criticises its own government at the drop of a hat.
Can you tell me where I criticised? Or has the government written to me in this regard? I would love to be enlightened. How can I criticise my government? I would want my government to be on a constructive incremental trajectory. When I get in three months a thousand applications on medical assistance, I have to invite the issue. Something must be wrong… a thousand people came here, but not everyone can come here. So what is our health scheme? Ayushman Bharat is a great scheme.
She has her own health scheme…
It doesn’t matter. She can have her own scheme, but why should you not get the thousand of crores that the people of the state are entitled to?
Then she’ll have to give up her own scheme.
It doesn’t matter. The two can be harmonised. But one thing is very clear. If I get a thousand applications, it means all is not well. Here is a Governor who is so contemptuously treated by the administration. Yet, I suffer in silence.
The events that unfolded on Constitution Day (November 26)…
I haven’t said this to anybody. It happened because I returned a file, which I was about to sign, after a message came from the home secretary asking me sign it to prorogue the Assembly session. If I had prorogued it that day, this statutory notice… this would not have taken place... because you convene the Assembly only with the sanction of the Governor. It took me two minutes to return the file. Because the Constitution Day is something to which all must subscribe. I told my secretary we must send the file without any let-up, as it is.
So you are saying that the special session of the state Assembly on Constitution Day was convened without the consent of the Governor?
No, I don’t say that. It is the continuation of the last session. Be in no doubt about it. This is in continuation with the last session. A new session has not been summoned. And there is nothing wrong with that. But a file had been send to me to prorogue that session. The moment I had signed the file, there would have been a new summoning, with new statutory provisions. And November 26 would not have been in that time gap.
Why did you not sign it then?
I have to help the state. I have to be in a cooperative mode. I always have to be supportive. If suppose the chief minister gave me three points to be raised during the governance conference, I raise them as such.
If you stood beside the state, why would it humiliate you on Constitution Day as alleged by you?
Ask them. Have you ever seen anywhere that a Governor, at an event, being asked to address the Assembly at number five (position)? Who preceded me? Former governors and a former Speaker. I overlooked that also.
I am looking to the event as “khoon ka ghoont pi lena chahiye” (one must absorb such humiliations) because things will look up.
Look her at 3 pm photo session with everyone. Look at the chief minister’s participatory enthusiasm. Look at how she receives them and look at how she goes to the statue of Dr BR Ambedkar. But when I land, she is nowhere to receive me. She doesn’t accompany me to the statue. I am not a person who can ever be discourteous to anyone. I am trained to be courteous.
You have taken it to your heart…
I have not taken it to my heart. As an individual, I don’t exist. The post of the Governor has been decimated in a manner that must put them in a reflective mode. I have grievance in the media also.
Everyone is saying the Governor should have been courteous. Why don’t you look at the videos and photographs? Do you think I should give up everything and go at a distance where she is standing? And her posture was like this [shows Banerjee with a folded-arms posture].
I was bewildered. But I am sure the media is in fear. I am saying so because I have felt it. I was warm to everyone... senior ministers, legislators, leader of the opposition, leader of the Congress party. But someone has to reach out to me. I hold a constitutional position. The day I took oath, I broke protocol and spoke to the chief minister.