'Does it mean that till the COVID-19 fight is over, the governor should be non-functional, in sleep mode, and fiddling in the Raj Bhavan while the state is burning?'
The Trinamool Congress government has mostly been at odds with Jagdeep Dhankhar, West Bengal's governor, since he assumed charge nine months ago.
"While the entire nation was fighting COVID-19, the West Bengal chief minister was fighting the Centre and the governor," Dhankhar tells Ishita Ayan Dutt.
Your tenure started with a war of words which has now boiled down to a war of letters. What is at the heart of this constant run-in?
I am privileged to be governor of West Bengal, and the first one in that position to be born in independent India.
Coming here has been enlightening -- the rich culture, human resource; everything about Bengal is glorious and unparalleled.
There are also several worrisome situations not in sync with the rich historical background.
I could never imagine that people could be denied, for so long, the essential elements of democracy and Constitutional working.
Politicisation of the bureaucracy is antithetical to democratic governance which is apparent here.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the bureaucracy have failed to act appropriately qua the governor, both in form and substance.
In times of an unprecedented crisis like this, there is a need to act in togetherness and in concert with the Centre.
Federalism in sublimity needs to be the working model.
What is the mess that you are referring to?
I don't wish to carry the baggage of the past, what the state ministers have said about me. So, let me get to the present situation.
Our farmers are in a mess.
About 7 million farmers would have received Rs 7,000 crore from the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, but are being deprived for no fault of theirs.
I had raised this issue with the chief minister, as also in the public domain.
The state only had to share data and it would not have had to contribute even a rupee.
I solicited an interaction with Mamata Banerjee amid the most challenging COVID-19 stress scenario. Even otherwise, she is Constitutionally obligated to brief me.
I was stunned by her three-line response that the government was fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, in a sense, eclipsed the Constitutional position of the governor.
Does it mean that till the COVID-19 fight is over, the governor should be non-functional, in sleep mode, and fiddling in the Raj Bhavan while the state is burning? Such a situation cannot be countenanced.
Then the letters followed.
While the entire nation was fighting COVID-19, the West Bengal chief minister was fighting the Centre and the governor.
Do your concerns stem from the issues raised by IMCT?
The IMCTs (inter-ministerial central teams) were received well in all states except West Bengal. It has catalysed affirmative action and, to some extent, things are falling in place.
The lapses and apathy in the COVID-19 combat have been so monumental that now a strategy is taking shape -- to take the exit route by shifting the burden onto the central government and shielding the CM by constituting committees.
This is no time for political moves, but the time to be on the front foot, so that the untold miseries that people are suffering get mitigated.
The COVID-19 combat cannot be left midway by the leader.
Data sharing by the state is being virtually ridiculed, both nationally and globally.
If data is shared effectively, people will automatically become serious.
You had once offered to mediate between the Centre and the state. Will you take up the issue of Rs 50,000 crore in dues that the state has been asking for?
I am keen to take up any issue concerning the state with the central government.
Surprisingly, no such issue has ever been flagged to me except once, and that too upon my persistent solicitation. However, I am still ready to lend any assistance.
The extended lockdown has left industry worried. What are your thoughts on lifting of the lockdown?
The prime minister is concerned and affirmatively engaged in this direction. His focus is that both Jaan and Jahan have to be attended in harmony. I gather that in a calibrated manner, it is being done.
The COVID-19 management by the Centre is being done largely under the Disaster Management Act. Is there a conflict with the spirit of federalism and is that going to be the 'new normal'?
The Disaster Management Act is not new. Such mechanisms are adopted in other countries too. It is a statute that empowers everyone to be on the front foot in times of disaster.
There is a central unified command, so that things can be implemented seamlessly.
I am deeply concerned at the 'stand-alone' attitude of Mamata Banerjee.