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Will West Bengal be BJP's next Arunachal Pradesh? Violence in Baduria, Mamata-Governor spat raises doubts

The public spat between West Bengal chief  minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor KN Tripathi on Wednesday degenerated into a bitter fight.

In an unprecedented public outburst, Mamata on Tuesday said that she had never felt so humiliated in her life as she felt while speaking to the governor, adding that Tripathi had threatened and humiliated her, a Hindustan Times report said. Trinamool Congress (TMC) also accused the governor of crossing the constitutional line, while reminding him that the "Raj Bhavan cannot be the BJP's office."

The governor has obviously dismissed these claims and accused senior TMC leaders of partisan behaviour. However, the ugly spat once again brought to the fore the increasingly strained relationship between the chief ministers of non-BJP ruled states and their governors and several claims made by media reports which alleged that the Centre's involvement in state politics is too close to be comfortable.

File image of Mamata Banerjee. PTI

File image of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

Tripathi had called Mamata, apparently, to take stock of the situation after communal clashes spread in Baduria in North 24 Parganas district. The communal riots started off after an objectionable Facebook post went viral and a particular community took objection to its contents. As violence spread through the city, BJP's state unit president Dilip Ghosh was quick to demand the president's rule in the state, while several other local leaders echoing the sentiment.

The CPM, a staunch Mamata critic, was quick to note that even though the TMC government is doing a shoddy job of maintaining law and order in the state, the situation does not call for a President's Rule. "Steps should be taken to immediately restore peace in areas of North 24-Parganas district. But we don't agree with what BJP has demanded regarding imposition of President’s rule in Bengal. The situation doesn’t call for President’s rule. Such demands only show the gameplan of BJP and RSS," Left Front Chairman Biman Bose told PTI.

The state government crying foul as the law and order situation crumbles is not a new phenomenon. But the bouts of protest-induced violence in West Bengal have been too frequent.

The Gorkha agitation in the Hills had hardly cooled off when the communal clash which broke out in Baduria, ostensibly triggred by the Facebook post. The Centre and West Bengal BJP units have kept its hands away from the Gorkha crisis, but the local leaders in Darjeeling and nearby areas were found to be in support of the Gorkhaland Janmuki Morcha (GJM).

Another interesting thing to note is that while the Gorkha parties have snapped ties with the West Bengal government, GJM continues to be an NDA ally at the Centre.

Keeping this in mind, TMC's accusations against the BJP that the party is inciting riots in Baduria and spreading rumours through social media, becomes interesting. The party's official stand is that it is the BJP that is fuelling violence in the state in its attempt to destabilise the government, with the West Bengal Governor acting as the 'BJP's parrot.'

While TMC and BJP will trade barbs with each other, given the political rivalry, but the pattern of brute manipulation of the governor's office in other non-BJP ruled states lends just a bit of weight to TMC and Mamata's allegations.  The BJP has done it in Arunachal Pradesh and the Supreme Court pulled up the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre for undermining the federal structure. They did it again in Uttarakhand in May 2016, and the state high court highlighted the unconstitutionality of the move.

Goa, Manipur, Puducherry, just go on to become some other example states where a constitutional post, circumscribed by the Constitution, and statute has been stretched to the point where it suits the saffron agenda in one way or another.

What is happening in West Bengal today and the state government's allegations just elicit a grim sense of déjà vu. First of all, toppling a elected state governments is not a new trick in the trade, and neither is using constitutional state heads as a tool for political manoeuvering a novel concept. When the Centre recommended Presidential rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, usurping Congress-led governments, the Supreme Court quashed the Centre's decision and restored the elected governments. It pointed out the significance of democratically-elected governments and pulled up the Centre for undermining the federal structure.

Goa and Manipur posed a completely different but equally interesting analogy of how the governor's office was used to suit a cause. The Congress emerged to be the single largest party in the recently concluded elections in the two states. However, Governors Mridula Sinha and Najma Heptullah invited BJP leaders to form governments, almost defensive of their decision.

Goa Governor Sinha, accepted in this interview to Mumbai Mirror, that she consulted Arun Jaitley, a senior BJP leader and also the Union Minister of Finance, before she arrived at a decision. Sinha told the newspaper that she did not expect the BJP to form the government "but the BJP acted swiftly."

Manipur Governor Heptullah too justified her decision to invite BJP to form the government in the north eastern state by stating that the party has the requisite numbers. On being asked about the objections raised by the Congress, she said, "Ruling of Supreme Court says it's the responsibility of Governor is to see who has majority and will work for state's stability."

There is a long list of examples of a acrid relationship between non-BJP chief ministers and governors in the respective states. Delhi's political slugfest between former Lt Governor Najeeb Jung and Arvind Kejriwal comes up as one vivid example in mind, however, Jung was a Congress appointee. However, Aam Aadmi Party frequently accused Jung being in cahoots with the Centre to hinder the Delhi government's functioning.

The current Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi has been making news for being at loggerheads with the Union Territory's chief minister. Only on Wednesday, chief minister V Narayanasamy accused Bedi of "murdering democracy" and acting like a "BJP agent." Narayanasamy had hit out at Bedi for "committing mayhem of democracy by secretly inducting last night three members as nominated legislators" to the Puducherry Assembly, PTI reported.

What's the role of a governor?

The governor was a post designated in British India under the Government of India Act 1935 by the Raj, of the Raj and for the Raj. Many questions has been raised at the relevance and need for a governor's position. In fact, in street lingo, Raj Bhawans are jokingly referred to as plush retirement homes for party loyalists who either need to be kept away from active public life due to certain restraints, or have passed the age of taking up an active office.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in an opinion article published in NDTV, says "Except in the increasingly rare resort to President's rule, the Governor has little of substance to do, and his few substantive and mainly ceremonial tasks could easily be divided between the Chief Minister and the Chief Justice of the state."

What's next for West Bengal?

As West Bengal continues to boil, its chief minister and governor are busy trading insults. However, it appears unlikely that a wary Centre will act as ruthelessly as it did in Arunachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand, especially after the Supreme Court has decisively struck down the imposition of president's rule as unconstitutional.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh even stepped in "to remind both, the governor and state chief minister Mamata Banerjee, to maintain decorum," The Asian Age reported. The news report stated that Singh has requested both sides to refrain from "making public statement about official business" and to "resolve the issue amicably."

However, this does not mean that the BJP is likely to turn down the heat on its arch rival TMC in a state it has been desperately wanting to mark a presence for sometime now.

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2017 06:48 AM

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