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Governor talks less, says more

Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi (centre) is greeted by Bengal BJP president Rahul Sinha (right) on Thursday as chief minister Mamata Banerjee looks on. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Calcutta, July 24: Keshari Nath Tripathi, who was sworn in today as governor of Bengal, has started his tenure by saying he “talks less”.

However, in a 10-minute interaction with the media, he proved that he knows “when to speak” and “what to speak”.

The former Speaker of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly took over in the presence of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her senior cabinet colleagues.

The two main Opposition parties — the Congress and the CPM — did not attend the event. Three senior leaders of the BJP — Rahul Sinha, president of the Bengal unit; Siddharth Nath Singh, minder for Bengal; and Amalendu Chattopadhyay, organisational secretary — were present.

In a departure from tradition, the new governor fielded some questions from the media. “I talk less. As a lawyer I had learnt when to speak and when not to speak and what to speak and what not to speak,” Tripathi said in his opening remarks.

Over the next 10 minutes, the 82-year-old governor spoke on a range of issues. Excerpts follow. The italicised sentences are background information included by this newspaper.

Q: What is your assessment of the chief minister?

Tripathi: What can I say about her? (Smiles)

Whether in power or in Opposition, unless they (political parties) develop the habit of respecting constitutional provisions and framework, it will ultimately result in chaos. Everyone has to work within the Constitution’s provisions. That is expected of the authorities.

Relevance: Since the change of guard in Bengal, the Mamata-led government has had several run-ins with constitutional bodies like the State Election Commission and the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. The government had a bitter legal battle with the state poll panel over the schedule and security arrangements for panchayat elections. At present, the two sides are locked in another battle over holding polls in 17 civic bodies and corporations. Mamata developed an icy relationship with the state human rights panel, too, after it recommended action on rights violation cases. Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the chief minister had a public outburst at the Election Commission of India over the transfer of some officials, only to climb down later.

Q: What do you have to say about political violence in the state?

Tripathi: Violence of any kind is to be condemned. One of the chief functions of a political party should be to preach and practise tolerance of the views of the other side. If you tolerate others’ views, you can develop a system to find solutions. Violence is not the solution.

Relevance: The ruling establishment in Bengal has been time and again accused of inflicting violence on supporters of Opposition parties. Sources in Raj Bhavan said that over the past three years, Opposition parties had met M.K. Narayanan, the former governor, at least twice a month to complain about atrocities. Besides, some Trinamul MPs and MLAs have been accused of making outrageous statements.

Q: What will be your role as governor?

Tripathi: The governor’s job is not to invite any confrontation with anybody. Let me understand Bengal, let me know the problems and whether I can solve them within the constitutional limits.

Relevance: This is more or less the textbook definition of what a governor is expected to do — steer clear of activism and remain a neutral entity that keeps an ear to the ground and an unwavering eye on the Constitution. The Bengal Opposition has been saying that some pieces of legislation have been pushed through without running them through a constitutional sieve.

Q: Do you know that two Opposition parties did not attend the swearing-in?

Tripathi: If they have boycotted, I don’t know why. They don’t know me and I don’t know them. What was the reason for boycott? Let them be happy.

Relevance: The Congress and the Left have reservations about the appointment of a BJP leader as governor at a time the party is eating into their support base and growing in Bengal. The Left and the Congress had supported a Trinamul-led motion against the appointment of a governor without consulting the state government.


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