West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has again been a lightning rod for controversy after claiming that State Chief Mamata Banerjee had asked officials to boycott Prime Minister Narendra Modi's review meeting on Cyclone Yaas.
Taking to Twitter, he wrote "With unparalleled trampling of constitutional values and affront to the office of PM, 28 May will go down as a dark day in India's long-standing ethos of cooperative federalism. Democracy was shredded".
Mamata Banerjee faced flak from Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not officially attending the meeting. Banerjee, however, did meet Modi separately and handed over a report on losses sustained by the state due to the cyclone. Amid this frosty relationship between Modi and Banerjee, Dhankhar's pro-BJP position has come under heavy criticism from the opposition and civil society.
All India Trinamool Congress party lawmaker Sougata Roy claimed that Dhankhar has undermined the dignity of the office of governor by speaking out against the state chief.
"We have never seen a governor like him. We criticise his every move. He shouldn't have been going to places and not paying heed to the counsel's advice. This is not a sign of a healthy democracy", Roy told Sputnik.
A visibly frustrated Trinamool lawmaker from the Hooghly district, Kalyan Banerjee, called Dhankhar a "bloodsucker" and slammed him for "roaming around like a mad dog". He then asked the people of Bengal to lodge a police complaint against the governor so that after his tenure is over, "Trinamool can put him in the Presidency Correctional Home".
Is BJP Misusing Constitutional Head of States?
A governor nominated by the president of India is supposed to be an apolitical constitutional head of state who acts on the advice of a cabinet of ministers.
Yet, during the last few years, the governors of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, and especially West Bengal have conducted their duties in a way that analysts suggest have brought "dishonour to their office". They have been accused of not inviting political parties with a majority to form a government, taking time in giving assent to bills, interfering in the day-to-day functioning of government, and publicly commenting on the government's activities.
The conflict between elected state governments and governors is not new, but it has taken an unprecedented turn in the eastern state of West Bengal, with Dhankhar locking horns with Banerjee over a number of issues.
Since taking charge in June 2019, Dhankhar has been on the offensive against Banerjee, further widening the discord between Narendra Modi's federal government and the state administration. His public display of dismay against the state chief has been widely criticised by opposition parties across the country.
Shiv Sena, an ally-turned-foe of Narendra Modi, demanded that Jagdeep Dhankhar be removed from his post and alleged that he was being used to create "political instability" in the state.
Dhankhar has been proactively opposing and questioning Banerjee's model of governance: from accusing her of politicising the police force to indulging in demagoguery. The spat between the two widened when Dhankhar penned a letter to Banerjee criticising the Bengal government's actions to contain COVID-19 as an "abject failure". Banerjee was quick to remind him that she was an elected representative with the people's mandate on her side. In an unprecedented move, he called an all-party meeting to discuss the bills pending in the state assembly.
Earlier this month, dismissing the government's advice, Dhankhar toured the violence-hit areas of Cooch Behar, where four persons were killed after security forces opened fire on them. He then sanctioned the prosecution of four of Mamata Banerjee's fellow party members, including two ministers.
Opposition leader and lawmaker from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, said Trinamool's move to lodge a complaint is nothing more than mere theatrics, but insisted that the governor is not maintaining decorum.
"A governor is the constitutional head of the state, he can't be so proactive in making statements and creating issues. He is acting as if he's in another authority of the executive. Moreover, the Bengal government should take the governor into confidence and sort things out. A state government and governor should work together for a healthy democracy to thrive. They should not tie up the citizens with more rows and controversies", Bhattacharya said.
The former leader of the opposition in the state assembly and Congress leader, Abdul Mannan, however, argues that the blame lies not only with the governor. The state chief provoked him, he says.
"Instead of sharing a cordial relationship, Mamata Banerjee has been treating Jaideep Dhankhar as her servant. The present situation created by this spat is shameful for the state", he added.
According to reports, Mamata Banerjee is planning to write to the president of India seeking Dhankhar's removal. In May, Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as the state chief for a third time after winning a majority in the state elections.
In India, the concept of a nominated governor was established by the British Raj in 1935 to keep administrations in check. After independence, the Congress Party, which once opposed the move, adopted the position in the Indian Constitution.