Governors tend to be both stooges and agents of the party ruling at the Centre. For this reason what they say and do sometimes appear politically motivated, especially when they are in charge of a State ruled by a party in the opposite camp. But, in West Bengal, Governor M.K. Narayanan was well within his constitutional limits when he described the ongoing violence indulged in by the ruling Trinamool Congress as goondaism. The comment was made in the context of the attacks on leaders and workers of the Left parties and the Congress by Trinamool cadres, and was cautionary and advisory in nature. However, Trinamool Minister Subrata Mukherjee, in an apparent effort to find favour with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, took it upon himself to warn the Governor against making “provocative” remarks that could be “misunderstood” by the people. He went so far as to say that he was showing a “yellow card” to the Governor now, and that a “red card” could follow. If anyone is guilty of impropriety, it is the Minister, and not the Governor. Not surprisingly, the Left parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, all defended the Governor against the Minister.
Of course, State governments have reason to be sensitive to critical remarks by the Governor or Central ministers about the law and order situation. This is because of the history of misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution. Breakdown of the constitutional machinery is organically linked to the breakdown of law and order. Although safeguards against the misuse of Article 356 have been in place since the Bommai judgment of the Supreme Court, State governments continue to view all words and deeds from representatives of the Central government with deep suspicion. But while Governors will have to be careful in their choice of words in criticising ‘their’ State government publicly, they cannot be expected to remain silent in a situation of rising political violence. What is happening on the ground in West Bengal is indeed highly disturbing. Instead of pointing a finger at the Governor, the Trinamool government will do well to look inwards and allow the police to act independently in cases of violence triggered by ruling party workers. Otherwise, Chief Minister Banerjee will soon discover that her party men have squandered the goodwill with which she came to power. That ideologically disparate parties are speaking in the same voice should itself set the alarm bells ringing in the government. Although there is no threat of the Left, the Congress and the BJP coming together, the Trinamool might soon find that it cannot win electoral battles on its own steam.