Mamata Banerjee’s stance is an assault on the Constitution

Interview/ Jagdeep Dhankhar, governor, West Bengal

40-Jagdeep-Dhankhar Jagdeep Dhankhar | Salil Bera

Q/ You recently went to North Bengal and had a meeting with the Darjeeling district magistrate. He was transferred the following day.

A/ Unfortunately, the police and administration in West Bengal are heavily politicised and are virtually an extension of the ruling dispensation. Governance has been distanced from constitutional parameters and the rule of law. The situation is so alarming, like in the example you have given, that political and even human rights activities are permissible only if one has bonhomie with the ruling party.

Q/ You have met Home Minister Amit Shah three times since becoming governor. Did you tell him about these observations?

A/ Yes, as governor, [I have to] regularly give inputs to the Central government; the details cannot be shared in the public domain.

Q/BJP president J.P. Nadda's convoy was attacked in Diamond Harbour. You summoned the officers. Did they satisfy your queries?

A/ The incident was unfortunate. That it happened in spite of my warning to the chief secretary and the DGP several hours prior to it is worrisome. Such an act is antithetical to democratic governance. It points towards total lawlessness and anarchy.

Q/So you had the input prior to the event.

A/ I have repeatedly cautioned the police and the administration that public servants cannot engage in political activity and, if they do so there will be severe consequences, apart from their conduct being criminally culpable. Both the chief secretary and the DGP called on me on the day of the incident, but failed to impart any details. Such emasculation of top bureaucrats is a threat to the democratic process and points to the fact that public servants are political workers paid by the exchequer.

Q/ Are these instances of the constitutional machinery collapsing?

A/ Well, an elected chief minister, as per the Constitution, is required to adhere to constitutional prescriptions. Unfortunately, I have noticed repeated transgression of the same and have pointed it out to the chief minister, who has maintained a non-responsive stance. Her refrain is against the essence of the Constitution and is one of confrontation against the Centre. This has resulted in a severe jolt to public interest and welfare of the people.

Q/ Has the state ever violated a constitutional directive of the Centre?

A/ On account of this confrontation (between Banerjee and the Centre), more than 70 lakh farmers in the state have so far been denied Rs8,400 crore. While every farmer in the country has got Rs12,000 directly in his or her bank account without intermediary, Bengal farmers have not. Same is the case with several other beneficiary schemes of the Central government.

Q/ So you say that Banerjee is defying the Centre, but that may not amount to violation of constitutional propriety.

A/ Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. A lot of things are worrisome. What I am more worried about is that her confrontational stance against the Central government is [morphing into] confrontation against the Constitution. She has of late been labelling people as “outsiders” although they happen to be citizens of the country; some of them even hold constitutional positions. I have tried to impress upon the chief minister that a citizen of this country cannot be an outsider in our state. Her stance is an outright assault on the preamble of the Constitution, which speaks of “We the People”. Stooping so low is not expected of anyone in politics, much less from someone in her position.

Q/ Many are worried of possible violence in the run-up to the state elections. What can you, as governor, do to allay such fears?

A/ This has been a challenge in the state for a long time. This has been on account of the politicised police and administration, who want to further the prospects of the ruling dispensation. I have committed myself to ensure free and fair elections without violence. In the entire exercise, the serious stakeholder is the voter, and I am now confident that the voter is getting increasingly alert in this regard.

Q/ If the entire administration has been politicised, how would the Election Commission conduct free and fair elections?

A/ My directive to the bureaucracy to be politically neutral is bearing fruit, but there are some who still continue to cling to the ruling dispensation. The law of the land will deal with such elements if they do not see the writing on the wall. These are my ultimate words to them.

Q/How many letters have you written to the chief minister, chief secretary or cabinet ministers? Have they responded?

A/ I do not count all of them. But the chief minister, under Article 167 of the Constitution, is under “duty” [to apprise the governor of administrative matters in the state]. I have sent several communications to her… unfortunately, the stance continues to be non-responsive and that points to a failure of the constitutional machinery in the state. It is high time she reflects upon her actions in the light of constitutional prescriptions and brings to an end this unwholesome scenario.

Q/ The ruling party has accused you of interfering with governance.

A/ The state government is unfortunately on police crutches. Governance [here] has all the facets of a police state. The people are deprived of their human rights to a painful level. The State Human Rights Commission, according to its chairman, who is a retired chief justice of the [Calcutta] High Court, is “on ventilator support”.

Q/ If there is a failure of the constitutional machinery, will there be President’s rule in Bengal? The home minister has said that your reports will carry a lot of weight if the Centre were to consider it.

A/ With respect to the discharge of my constitutional obligations, the issue cannot be made public.

Q/ One ruling party leader in Bengal said an FIR should be filed against you. A senior MP of the same party calls you Uncle ji. How do you react to all this?

A/ I do not wish to react to unfounded, baseless allegations.

Q/State Finance Minister Amit Mitra accused you of not helping the state get its due from the Centre.

A/ The people of Bengal have paid a huge price because of the non-implementation of the Central schemes like PM Kisan and Ayushman Bharat. As for the statement of the state finance minister, it carries no credibility as he has responded to me on communications without any facts or substance.

Q/ Are you talking of his response to your queries on the state business summit?

A/ Yes, I am referencing the Bengal Global Business Summit, which is a huge scam. The questions I posed remain unanswered. The state government is being run in an ad hoc manner; [there is only] political purpose and public interest is not being served.

Q/ But the minister also said that during Covid-19, the Centre paid little (0200 crore or less) when the state spent several thousands of crores.

A/ Covid-19 assistance to state governments follows a pattern of assistance all over the country. All efforts by the Centre to provide assistance were met with resistance. You may recall that Bengal was the only state that most indecorously stalled the working of the Central team visiting the state during Covid-19.

Furthermore, this untenable contention is to divert attention from the Pandemic Purchase Scam. The chief minister ordered the probe after allegations of nepotism and rampant corruption in the purchase of Rs2,000 crore worth of pandemic-related equipment. Surprisingly, those who needed to be probed became investigators. The report is not being revealed.