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Cong keeps hands off governor row

New Delhi, Nov. 10: The Congress today distanced itself from Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s outburst in Bengal, signalling that it believed governors should be seen but not heard in public.

“We don’t know what provoked the governor to say all that. But this kind of mistrust and misunderstanding cannot be allowed to take place or continue. It will have to be sorted out by the governor and the state government. The Centre doesn’t come in the picture,” party spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily said.

Congress sources said the “larger point” the party was making with this stand — evolved by the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi — was that the “truce” with the Left on the nuclear deal would not be unsettled with “short-term, tit-for-tat” tactics.

This was why in spite of pressure from some in the state Congress, the Centre agreed to send forces to Nandigram.

Although Nandigram was not on the agenda of a lunch meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted for Left leaders Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan, it came up. Sonia and Pranab Mukherjee were also present.

The debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament was to be discussed, but the Left leaders spoke out against the governor’s statement on the Nandigram violence.

CPI general secretary Bardhan described it as “unwarranted” and “improper”. “The governor should have discussed the matter with the chief minister or sent his report to the Centre instead of making a public statement. By doing so, he has crossed the political Lakshman Rekha.”

The Prime Minister heard him out in silence, sources said.

The Left leaders did not, however, suggest that the governor be replaced.

Congress sources said the party agreed that Gandhi should have communicated his “assessment and views” in a report to the Centre. If “outspokenness” became the norm, the governor-government equilibrium would be in a state of permanent disorder, they said.

Sonia asked the Left leaders why Nandigram was on the boil even after the Bengal government had scrapped its land acquisition plan.

They in turn wanted to know why the Centre had not deployed the CRPF and wondered if a cabinet minister from Bengal was “playing politics”. The Prime Minister cited the Gujarat elections, but the Left leaders insisted central forces should be sent without delay.

By late afternoon, one battalion was released. The party is keen not to incite the Left to “say or do anything” that could underline differences between the allies before the Parliament session and the Gujarat elections.

So, while the Bengal Congress would be free to protest either independently or with the Trinamul Congress, party MPs in Delhi would “not be encouraged” to do so.

“Law and order is a state subject and the state government will have to take control of things. Law cannot be allowed to go into the hands of certain groups,” Moily said, adding the Congress was confident a “mature” politician like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would “act swiftly”.

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