​Locked in conflict: On the standoff in West Bengal

Governors and Chief Ministers must step back from a political confrontation 

Updated - July 11, 2024 01:33 pm IST

Published - July 11, 2024 12:20 am IST

In calling for a report from the State government on the action taken against two police officers, West Bengal Governor C.V. Ananda Bose has escalated the conflict between Raj Bhavan and the State government. He has written to the Union government and to the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, about what he perceives as impropriety by Vineet Goyal, Kolkata City Police Commissioner, and Indira Mukherjee, a Deputy Commissioner of Police. The Governor is aggrieved that they made remarks pertaining to an investigation into a complaint of alleged sexual harassment that a Raj Bhavan employee had made against him. While the complaint has not been acted upon — as Mr. Bose enjoys immunity from proceedings under Article 361 of the Constitution — it has become a thorny issue, with the Governor believing that the police officers had flouted the rules of conduct in speaking about an investigation that cannot be instituted or continued. His consternation is also because he believes the Commissioner had stopped a group of people with grievances about post-election violence from meeting him, even though he had agreed to meet them. The Governor has also demanded a report on the action taken with regard to a woman being disrobed in public, a couple being flogged and other incidents of mob violence, undoubtedly a legitimate request.

The Governor is indeed authorised to seek information from the State government under Article 167. Whether disciplinary action involving central service officers, normally within the domain of the State governments when they are serving the State, can be initiated at the instance of the Governor or the Union government is a separate question altogether. Mr. Bose has cited circumstances surrounding the harassment complaint against him to argue that it is a “concocted allegation”, “induced and facilitated” by the police. However, it may not be in anyone’s interest to escalate such issues by asking for punitive action against officers. At a time when personal squabbles and institutional conflicts between Governors and Chief Ministers are on the rise, the development is likely to be seen as one more stand-off involving the politicisation of Raj Bhavan by incumbents seeking to undermine elected regimes. The two sides appear locked in perennial conflict, mirroring the antagonism between the Centre and the State. There is the usual one over grant of assent to Bills, and a recent one involves the question who should administer the oath of office to newly elected legislators. And there is a defamation suit the Governor has filed against the Chief Minister. Constitutional functionaries should pull back from the brink before they are sucked into a political rabbit hole.

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