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Governor sticks to text in Assembly

Bengal government heaves a sigh of relief
Mamata and Dhankhar outside the House.

Our Special Correspondent   |   Calcutta   |   Published 07.02.20, 07:59 PM

Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar addressed the Assembly on Friday reading out every word of the speech drafted by the state government, including criticism of the Centre’s citizenship thrusts, though treasury benches had been worried earlier that he would deviate from the text.

The 220-plus Trinamul Congress MLAs heaved a collective sigh of relief after Dhankhar toed the government line. Scores of Trinamul legislators had come sporting bandanas and badges that read “No NRC, No CAA, No NPR” and aprons with prints of the Preamble to the Constitution and were prepared to launch a major show of protest if the governor veered off the prepared speech.

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A group of senior cabinet members huddled outside the House after the gubernatorial address at the start of the Assembly’s budget session. On condition of anonymity, they admitted “shwosti (relief)” at how a virtually unprecedented crisis was averted.

In a first in recent memory, cameras were disallowed in the galleries during the governor’s address.

“The basic values and principles held so dear by the founding fathers of the Constitution are under challenge… the government should care about the security and sentiment of all sections of the populace. Spreading misinformation is the order of the day and rejection of all forms of dissent is the new fashion in the name of patriotism,” read Dhankhar.

As he continued reading through the parts that he, according to sources in the government, had objected to, a south Bengal MLA in the treasury benches was heard telling another seated next to her: “Shobtai kintu porchheyn. Conflict-ey geleyn na (But he is reading it all. He steered clear of conflict).”

Dhankhar, in the presence of Speaker Biman Banerjee and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, read on.

“Centuries-old tradition of religious pluralism has been challenged by the tyranny of majoritarianism donning the guise of democracy. There is a general air of intolerance, bigotry and hatred that is straining the variegated thread of unity tying together all the linguistic, religious and ethnic diversities in the country,” he read, towards the end of the 25-page address including lofty praise of the rule of law in Bengal and its economy.

This was significant as these were some of the areas Dhankhar chose in the past to mount attacks on the Trinamul-led government. “I… mourn the tragic end of those brave sons of India who lost their lives during protest against CAA in different parts of the country,” read the governor, who on several occasions has voiced support for the amended citizenship law and criticised protests against it.

After the address, Dhankhar went around the well of the House, greeting members on front rows, stopping to speak to the likes of Congress veteran and leader of the Opposition Abdul Mannan and leader of the Left legislature party Sujan Chakraborty. He did not shy away from Trinamul members sporting the bandanas and the aprons. In the end, he walked up to Speaker Banerjee and Mamata, asking to have tea together.

For the next half-hour, Dhankhar, Banerjee and Mamata had a meeting over tea in the Speaker’s chamber, as ruling party members expressed joyous relief to each other and the non-BJP Opposition started complaining about how the speech was not “anti-BJP enough”.

After Dhankhar left the premises, the Congress and the Left alleged an entente between Trinamul and the BJP.

“Since the governor could not and would not have overstepped the constitutional bounds, there was enough scope for a scathing criticism of the BJP and its government at the Centre. Yet, there was no real criticism or even mention of the anti-people policies of the Narendra Modi government,” said Mannan.

In a virtual echo, Chakraborty said the fight of Mamata and her party with Modi and the BJP was “only a mock fight”.

“A bid to fool the masses, nothing else,” he said.



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