On the loose: On West Bengal Governor Jaideep Dhankar

In West Bengal, the Governor must not stray from his constitutional mandate

July 22, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar remains in the spotlight, and there is every reason to believe that he wants it that way. On Monday, he met Home Minister Amit Shah with a litany of complaints against the Mamata Banerjee government, apprising him of the “alarming cliff-edge governance situation in the State”. Before the meeting, he had said it was “part of his duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” under Article 159. Indeed, the Governor has a constitutional role to perform, but Mr. Dhankhar appears enthusiastic to stretch his mandate all the time. During the meeting, he briefed the Home Minister on the State’s “rampant corruption and nepotism”, “alarming COVID-19 situation” and “worrisome and dangerously deteriorating law and order situation”. This is an overreach of authority, done without finesse. Besides his incessant war of nerves with Ms. Banerjee, Mr. Dhankhar has ended up in confrontations with vice chancellors, students and Trinamool Congress leaders, during his one-year tenure. He has also shown a proclivity to be unrestrained in media interactions, including his frequent Twitter posts. He must remember that he is not an Opposition politician in West Bengal. His opinions on the State government, and interactions with it, must be circumscribed by well-established precedents, and should draw strength from the Constitution he repeatedly calls to his defence.

No doubt, there are concerns regarding governance in the State. Ms. Banerjee is a combative politician but her administrative talents have not matched up to the crisis of the pandemic. West Bengal has been slow in its responses. Political violence, gruesome crimes, and allegations of police partisanship require the Chief Minister’s personal attention. But all this cannot be an excuse for the Governor to randomly offer his opinions publicly. His behaviour cannot be seen delinked from the BJP’s obsession of winning West Bengal, which goes to the polls in less than a year. The battle of 2021 will be fiercely fought, and if the past is anything to go by, potentially ugly too. The CBI and even the Election Commission, which is an autonomous constitutional body, have to remain above the political fray. Governors have come to assist the BJP in other States too — in upending the constitutional status of J&K and in swearing in a government of the party in Maharashtra, completely disregarding norms last year, for instance. It is possible that Mr. Dhankhar is trying to be more loyal than the king, but the pattern of interference by the Centre in the affairs of States raises other legitimate concerns. He must therefore roll back his rhetoric; and the Prime Minister and the Home Minister must nudge him to stay within his constitutionally circumscribed functions.

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