By Tirthankar Mitra
Ruling dispensations in states where the writ of non-BJP parties run have often been at loggerheads with the governor. If a recent tweet of Tamil Nadu chief minister, MK Stalin about a call from his West Bengal counterpart, Mamata Banerjee about the undemocratic functioning of governors in non-BJP ruled states is anything to go by, the stage is being set to make gubernatorial intervention an election issue in 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Stalin’s tweet stated that Banerjee rang him up “to express her solidarity and admiration about our initiatives about undemocratic functioning of governors in non-BJP ruled states and suggested that all the Opposition parties meet to decide on the next course of action.” A meeting of the chief ministers of states ruled by parties opposed to BJP have usually been convened to chalk out plans to end the continuance of the saffron dispensation at the Centre.
With the functioning of the governors in non-BJP party ruled states is scheduled to come up in the agenda of the next Opposition parties’ conclave, to all intents it becomes a live ammunition in the coming election campaign. It is no secret that Stalin and his state governor R N Ravi do not see eye to eye on many matters.
Chief ministers especially in the states run by a party which does not subscribe the ideology of the outfit at the Centre have often voiced their grouse about gubernatorial interference in administrative matters. Several Bills passed in Tamil Nadu Assembly are yet to be signed by the governor.
Similar charges are hurled at the principal occupant of Raj Bhavan by the dispensation of several states where BJP is in the Opposition benches of the state Assembly. Things had come to such a pass in Tamil Nadu that the governor was referred to as the “shadow chief ” of the state BJP unit.
Interference and non-cooperation in the state government’s functioning, giving precedence to instructions of the Centre even at the cost of overlooking interests of the state government are some of these much hurled allegations. Banerjee’s phone call and Stalin’s tweet assumes significance in this backdrop.
West Bengal has a long history of face offs between state government and the governor. Be it the United Front dispensation or decades thereafter Left Front government, a war of words continued unabated.
Many expected Mamata Banerjee taking up the reins of the state in 2011would mark the beginning of the end of the hostilities between the chief minister and the governor. But if the run ins between the two peaked during the tenure of Jagdeep Dhankhar as the governor, the troubles continued to erupt off and on between the constitutional and elected heads of the state even after CV Anand Bose assumed office.
Though Bose promised “harmony and not conflict”, a salvo was fired from Raj Bhavan at Nabanna, the state secretariat when the governor wrote to the vice-chancellors asking for weekly financial reports. The governor does not have the authority to call for such report, an irate Nabanna shot back.
Subsequently, Bose appointing university vice- chancellors made things snowball. Matters went downhill when the governor started dropping into university campuses without consulting the state education department.
Matters have come to such a pass that state education minister, BratyaBasu feels that the chief minister and not the governor should be the chancellor of universities. The Trinamool Congress seeks to reduce the importance of the governor’s office.
In this context, nothing suits TMC better than to portray the governor’s intervention as a part of central interference. The governor’s action rubbing the ruling dispensation the wrong way was the talking issue earlier also but this time, in the context of the coming panchayat polls and Lok Sabha elections in 2024, the spat has got added political dimension.
It is recalled that during the last phase of the Left Front rule, in 2007- 2008, the then governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi expressed his anger at the police action in Nandigram and Singur. If sections of the CPI (M) leadership went hammer and tongs at him, not a word of recrimination came from the then chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee nor did Left Front made it an election issue. But now political circumstances are such that both Trinamool Congress of Bengal and the CPI(M) government of Kerala want the governor issues to be discussed nationally and use the issue as a campaign point in the Lok Sabha elections.
Given the electoral successes of the BJP in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Opposition is loath to ignore an issue which can enhance its fizz in next year’s election campaign. In this backdrop, issue of “pro active” governors will only add to its readymade campaign fodder especially if the state regime subscribed to an ideology which is an anathema to the saffron camp.
A letter from Kerala chief minister and CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan to Stalin is a pointer to it. In it the Kerala chief minister has asked the extent of the authority of the governor’s office and whether it can be implemented overriding that of the Assembly.
The role of governor especially in the states ruled by non-BJP parties have often been under the scanner. Now it seems the gubernatorial acts are leading to diminishing ideological differences and increase proximity between Opposition outfits in 2024 parliamentary polls. (IPA Service)