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'Look at the killings that have taken place!'

By PAYAL SINGH MOHANKA
Last updated on: May 07, 2021 16:23 IST
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'There is arson, loot, rape of women, traumatising children, destruction of property, homes, shops and offices by workers and elements of the ruling dispensation.'
'What is most painful is while all this was taking place there was stunning silence by the chief minister.'
'Not one tangible step was taken.'

IMAGE: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, left, with Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar at Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, May 3, 2021. Photograph: PTI Photo

Jagdeep Dhankhar took over in July 2019 as the 28th governor of West Bengal.

It's no secret that he has had a strained relationship with Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

A challenge that none of his predecessors would have faced.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff.Com's Senior Contributor Payal Singh Mohanka, Governor Dhankhar shares his concerns about Bengal, the ruling TMC dispensation and the road ahead for the state.

The first of a two-part exclusive interview:

 

Yesterday (May 5) we saw an unusual swearing-in ceremony. There was palpable tension.

The state is passing through its toughest challenge since Partition.

Reports are pouring in from all over where retributive post-poll violence is rampant.

There is arson, loot, rape of women, traumatising children, destruction of property, homes, shops and offices by workers and elements of the ruling dispensation.

All these are only to target those who have lent support in the recent election to the Opposition party.

There are horrifying scenes of candidates' houses being destroyed and extremely shameful treatment being meted out even to women who happened to have been managing the booth.

I have shared with the chief minister certain videos on which I would not like to reflect publicly, but these videos to the extent dignity of women is concerned outrage a sense of Bengal culture and our age-old civilisational ethos.

What is most painful is while all this was taking place there was stunning silence by the chief minister. Not one tangible step was taken.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee holds the Election Commission responsible for law and order.

The chief minister on this count could not have been more wrong.

I have been shocked and pained that she took the cover that it was the Election Commission of India's responsibility.

Her stance has no Constitutional, legal or factual premise.

She enjoyed the same authority which she enjoyed before the (Election Commission's) Model Code of Conduct came into being.

I say so because the Model Code of Conduct was lifted on May 3rd noon.

There is an official notification in the public domain, everyone should be aware of it.

So her taking a stance that her inaction can be covered by this position is totally untenable.

Within hours of the reports of violence coming in you had a meeting with the director general of police and the commissioner of police. How did the meeting pan out?

As the Constitutional head finding the situation gruesome and horrifying with reports pouring in from all over the state, I summoned the DGP and CP.

Both of them came. They shared their perception and the update on events in their knowledge.

The DGP indicated at that point of time that 9 had been killed.

I asked both of them to give me a factual update by way of a report.

Then I summoned the additional chief secretary in charge of home.

I called upon him on two counts, to give me an overview of the violence in the state after the polls and second any steps taken by the state machinery.

I told him this was of top-most priority and urgency but no report came forth.

I then got my additional chief secretary to call him. I was told that the ACS home would call me.

He did call me. I was shocked, amazed and deeply perturbed. He told me that the DGP and CP had sent their reports to him, but the chief minister had asked him not to forward it to the governor.

Now the Model Code of Conduct plea she takes, you can imagine for yourself where she stands on this count.

The TMC says a lot of these visuals we have been seeing on social media are fake. How would you counter that?

None of the inputs I have sent to the chief minister are fake.

The problem is so severe, so widespread and so rampant.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party Pesident Jagat Prakash Nadda, accompanied by BJP leaders, meets post-poll violence victims, in Sonarpur, May 4, 2021. Photograph: PTI Photo

Bengal has a history of post-poll violence. Sadly, there is some degree of acceptance. Even before the verdict, the administration is well aware that violence would erupt.

This time the electoral process was comparatively far less violent except for the post-poll violence.

The post-poll violence is much more.

There are reports that it is orchestrated with sinister motivation, to send a message that anyone opposing the ruling party, or supporting the Opposition by becoming a candidate, a booth manager or a voter will have to face the consequences by way of destruction of his property, outrage of womenfolk and life.

Look at the killings that have taken place!

So in the wake of a landslide victory, you hold the ruling dispensation responsible for the mayhem in the districts.

Going by the scenario that no steps were taken.

Did you see anyone being arrested?

Did you see any teargas shells?

Did you see Section 144?

There is total anarchy and lawlessness.

It is believed that violence will abate now that Mamata Banerjee has been sworn in. At the oath-taking ceremony you did advise the chief minister 'to script a new governance pattern'. Would you elaborate please?

Governance in the state of West Bengal during the time I have been governor since July 30, 2019, is marked by three fundamental features.

It is distanced from Constitutional prescriptions and rule of law.

It is irrationally confrontationist to the central government at the cost of the rights of the people.

Third, the bureaucracy has gone beyond being politicised.

Public servants have become frontline political workers forgetting all their obligations in law.

All these factors taken together have created a state, I would say a level above a police state.

There is so much fear people have. The enormity of it is to an extent that they fear to even talk about fear.

What do you see as the TMC's major shortcomings?

I am not a stakeholder in politics. I am not concerned with that aspect.

But I am concerned that if governance and rule of law do not adhere to expectations of the Constitution then people's rights are trampled and that is what I am seeing all around at the moment.

Imagine for a moment the Election Commission of India in its wisdom positions some officials to engage in the solemn activity of election duty and what has the government done yesterday? All have been targeted.

I deprecate it, condemn it. Those engaged in serving the nation as per Constitutional requirements if they are so treated, the message is loud and clear -- there is no faith in democracy.

It is the worst form of despotic behaviour. One of them has even been suspended.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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