The ongoing conflict between the West Bengal government and the Raj Bhawan has again ignited a debate between these two entities.
The verbal battles between Governor C V Ananda Bose and the state government over matters such as the appointment of university VCs, the state's foundation day and the panchayat poll violence echo the animosity previously experienced between the government and former Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who is now the Vice-President of India.
Political analysts and historians feel although the state in the last fifty years has witnessed a shift in politics from being ideologically driven to identity-oriented to the class of 'haves and have-nots, the strained relationship between the Raj Bhawan and the state government has remained a constant theme.
"West Bengal has a long history of acrimonious relationship between the state government and the Raj Bhawan, irrespective of whether it's Left or the TMC in power. It started during the tenure of Dharma Vira in 1967 and is continuing. This stems from the politics of different parties in power at the state and central government," professor of history at Harvard University Sugata Bose told PTI.
Bose, the grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, said the problems between the two entities can always be solved through discussions as the role of the Governor is mentioned in the Constitution.
According to former Supreme Court judge Ashok Kumar Ganguly, although the role of the Governor is mentioned in the Constitution of India, the problem arises "when the Governor exceeds his brief." "If you go by the Constitution, then there is no scope of any problem between the Governor and the state government, as the Governor has to function as per the advice of the council of ministers. But whenever the Governor tries to run a parallel government and exceeds his brief, the problem arises," Ganguly told PTI.
The long history of animosity between the West Bengal government and the Raj Bhawan can be traced back to 1967, the tenure of the first non-Congress government- United Front, in the state.
The United Front government, an alliance of Bangla Congress and CPI (M), had regular tiffs with Governor Dharma Vira.
In 1967, Chief Minister Ajay Mukherjee clashed with Governor Vira over a demand to prove majority of the United Front within three days, after which Mukherjee replied that it would take place within the predestined time on the assembly floor.
An infuriated governor sent a recommendation to the Centre, leading to the state government's dismissal, after which the government was dismissed.
After the United Front returned to power for the second time in 1969, the governor, in his address, refused to read a paragraph self-critical of his previous decision to recommend the dismissal of the state government.
Barring 1972-77 during Congress rule, the conflict resurfaced in 1977 when the Left Front came to power. It reached a new low in 1981 with Governor BD Pandey facing criticism from the government over a host of issues. The then CPI (M) state secretary Pramode Dasgupta even referred to him as 'Bangla Daman Pandey,' implying he wanted to crush Bengal.
Pande's successor, Anant Prashad Sharma, who became Governor in 1984, also had a strained relationship with the Left Front government, particularly over the nomination of the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University. His nomination of Santosh Bhattacharya as the VC of the Calcutta University over a Left-aligned candidate was the bone of contention.
The miffed Left Front not only boycotted all the governor's programmes but also sent a report to the Sarkaria Commission stating that there was no need for the post of the governor.
In 2007, Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi's comments on the Nandigram police firing infuriated the Left Front Government. Although the CPI (M) leaders asked him to join politics, the then-opposition Trinamool Congress welcomed his statement.
Tension between the governor and the state government continued even after the TMC came to power in 2011. Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi initially had a cordial relationship with the state government but criticized the administration after clashes between communities, leading to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accusing him of insulting her.
However, the relationship reached an all-time low during the tenure of Dhankhar when – disagreements, tiffs and public spat not only made headlines but was also the order of the day.
Although Ananda Bose initially shared a cordial relationship with the state government, leading to the state BJP unit expressing displeasure over his appointment, things soon started taking a turn after the governor started expressing disagreement and disapproval over a host of issues, drawing the ire of the TMC regime.
Political analyst Maidul Islam feels that Bengal's long history of rule by the political parties opposed to the power in New Delhi is "the root cause of the ongoing tussle between the Raj Bhawan and the state government." "Since 1967, except 1972-77, Bengal had governments opposed to those in power in New Delhi, and the central government has sometimes used the post of the Governor to pinprick the elected state government. This trend is continuing," he said.
Echoing him, political science professor Biswanath Chakraborty said the present problems arise from the fact that "BJP is trying to use the post of governor to gain political traction in the state." The ruling TMC, however, feels that efforts to disturb an "elected state government" are unconstitutional and against the norms of democracy.
"The people elect chief minister; governor is an appointed post. So, in democracy and according to the Constitution, the Governor has to act as per the advice of the chief minister. But in Bengal, the governor is trying to run a parallel government. This won't yield any results, neither would bring votes to BJP," TMC MP Santanu Sen said.
BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said the Governor is acting per the Constitution, but the problem lies with "Bengal's ruling, which has a problem in following the rule of law." "The erstwhile Left Front, too, had the same problem. The TMC thinks that Bengal is not a state of India but wants to manage it as if it's a separate nation," he said.
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