After a few months of bonhomie, ties between Kolkata’s Raj Bhavan and Nabanna (the state secretariat that houses the chief minister’s office) are set to hit the stormy seas.
Fireworks have already erupted between Governor C.V. Ananda Bose and the state government over the former’s recent actions with regard to state universities that the state has dubbed “unilateral and unwarranted”.
Governor Bose has invited the ire of state education minister Bratya Basu over his unannounced visits and directives to state universities.
Last week, the Governor made unscheduled visits to Calcutta University, Presidency University and West Bengal State University. He interacted with the Vice-Chancellors and senior officials of the Universities.
Two weeks ago, the Governor had sent out letters to Vice-Chancellors of all state universities asking them to file weekly reports to him and take his nod in financial matters.
Last week, Governor Bose appointed a senior academic of Netaji Subhas Open University (NSOU)--the only open university of the state with five lakh students--as the interim vice-chancellor of the varsity.
Though the state education department had reportedly sent him a few names to choose from, the Governor is said to have ignored those and appointed the director of the NSOU’s School of Social Sciences, Professor Chandan Basu, as the acting VC of the university.
The NSOU has been facing a crisis after the retirement of its vice-chancellor on March 15. The UGC had refused to renew its approvals of the NSOU’s 33 distance learning centres due to the absence of a VC.
Raj Bhawan sources told Swarajya that the crisis faced by NSOU prompted the Governor, who is also the chancellor of all state universities, to appoint Prof Basu as the interim VC.
After appointing Prof Basu as the interim VC, Governor Bose summoned the former, along with the NSOU registrar and two top officials of the varsity, to a meeting at Raj Bhavan Sunday (April 16).
The appointment of Prof Basu as the interim VC of NSOU by the Governor Friday coincided with a scathing attack that education minister, Bratya Basu, launched on the Governor.
“The Governor’s is an executive post. The apex court has recently said his personal views do not matter. We have never attempted to exclude the Governor from any decision. We tried to cooperate. He should sign the bill (replacing the Governor with the Chief Minister as chancellor of state universities) instead of going to Universities and trying to unilaterally decide on VCs. On interim VC appointments, he is bypassing the state education department. He has not even informed the Chief Minister. He is deciding on VCs, going to Universities, but do what you need to do first (sign the bill),” said Bratya Basu.
Terming the office of Governor as a “white elephant”, the minister said that if Governor Bose is “keen on developing higher education in Bengal, and if he wanted to understand Bengal and Bengalis better”, then he should give his assent to the bill passed by the Assembly in June 2022 making the Chief Minister the chancellor of all state universities.
Bratya Basu also said: “You (Governor Bose) were appointed with the CM’s consent. You should think of the state and the prestige of higher education. Do not disrespect it. While the Chancellor is integral (to Universities), equally important is the higher education department. Because the chief minister is morally our chancellor, we prioritise the autonomy of universities”.
Though Governor Bose has chosen to remain silent on minister Bratya Basu’s outburst against him, senior officials of the Raj Bhavan told Swarajya that he is peeved with the minister and the functioning of the state education department.
Governor Bose is also very well aware of the fact that the minister would not have criticised him (Bose) without an explicit nod from chief minister Mamata Banerjee. “The Governor realsies very well that right now, the chief minister is firing the gun from the minister’s shoulders,” said a senior officer of the Governor’s office.
But Governor Bose, who is an accomplished bureaucrat and is well aware of the workings of the government, will not back down from cleaning the state education department’s augean stables.
“The Governor is determined to set things right in the universities and get deserving academics, and not sycophants of the ruling party, appointed to senior posts in the state universities. If that puts him on a collision course with the state government, he will face it,” the officer, who is said to know the Governor’s mind, told Swarajya.
The initial bonhomie
Governor Bose and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee struck a happy note immediately after he took up residence at the gubernatorial mansion in Kolkata on November 23 last year.
After the Governor’s swearing in, Mamata Banerjee had declared that ties between the Raj Bhavan and Nabanna had entered a “new and happy innings”. She showered praise on Governor Bose and called him “a very good man”.
That marked a dramatic upturn in ties between the Governor and Chief Minister which had plummeted when (Vice President) Jagdeep Dhankar was the occupant of the Kolkata Raj Bhavan.
The relationship between Dhankar, who used to frequently criticise the state government in very strong terms, was acrimonious and the Governor and chief minister often used to have very sharp public exchanges.
But all that changed when C.V.Ananda Bose was appointed the Governor. Trinamool leaders felt that the sour ties between the Governor and the chief minister was history.
Saraswati Puja on January 26 this year provided the happy spectacle of Mamata Banerjee personally overseeing an elaborate ceremony where Governor Bose was initiated into learning the Bengali language through a ritual known as hatey khori.
It was Banerjee who had suggested to Governor Bose to hold the ceremony at the Raj Bhavan when the latter expressed his desire to her to learn the Bengali language.
But the ceremony at Raj Bhavan drew criticism from the BJP with the party’s national vice president, Dilip Ghosh, terming it as “unbecoming of the Governor”.
“The Governor of the state should not take part in such drama. It does not add glory to his Constitutional post,” Ghosh had said.
But it was a speech by Governor Bose at a ceremony where Mamata Banerjee was conferred with a D.Litt (Doctorate of Literature) by St. Xavier’s University on February 6 that went a step further.
Bose’s speech praising Mamata Banerjee evoked disdain from many quarters and was widely criticised.
The Governor praised the chief minister (read this) as an “eminent statesman”, lauded her political acumen and extolled her “pursuit of excellence in literature, painting and poetry”.
Bose also put Banerjee on the same pedestal as former Presidents Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, former Czech Republic president and eminent writer Vaclav Havel and eminent English poet-novelist John Milton!
“It is a matter of great delight to me that I have been able to witness this great occasion when my distinguished constitutional colleague, Mamata Banerjee, is honoured deservedly by this great institution (St. Xavier’s University). I see above me, I see around me ancestral voices praising her, praising the moment because in the Vedas it is said that when women are honoured, the Gods rejoice. This is an occasion when a deserving woman leader has been honoured with a D.Litt,” Bose said.
The first volley from the Raj Bhavan
The first difference between Governor Bose and the state government erupted with the Governor sacking his principal secretary, Nandini Chakravorty, on February 12.
Chakravorty, an IAS officer belonging to the Bengal cadre, is known to be very close to Mamata Banerjee. She incurred the Governor’s wrath for including a few lines criticising the Union Government in the customary address that Bose delivered to the state Assembly February 8.
BJP MLAs staged a walkout in protest against the speech that they termed as a “false speech” written by the state government.
“There are three areas where we could do little in this year - MGNREGA, rural housing and rural roads. Till 2021-22, West Bengal has been the No 1 state in these areas as well. But this state is yet to receive any fund from the Centre. More than Rs 11,800 cr is pending. This has caused hardship and created major difficulties in meeting the obligations of the state government for the welfare of the common people. I hope the Centre would release the funds soon in the interest of poor people. And I am sure West Bengal will continue to hold No 1 place in MGNREGA, rural housing, as soon as it gets its dues from the central government,” the Governor said in his speech.
The Governor sacked Chakravorty for including these lines in his speech and also for trying to misconstrue many actions of the Governor.
Mamata Banerjee did not take kindly to the sacking of her favourite bureaucrat who she had posted at the Raj Bhavan to keep an eye on the Governor and also to influence him.
Mamata Banerjee was also miffed with the Governor for telling the state government that he would like to constitute three committees — a Governor’s Advisory Council, a Governor’s Experts Committee and a Governor’s Resource Group — to help him carry out his constitutionally-mandated duties.
Banerjee saw this as an attempt to form a “parallel government” that would try to interfere in the domain of the executive.
The ‘course correction’ by Governor Bose came after senior BJP leaders, including state party chief Sukanta Majumdar, had discussions with him.
Of late, the Governor has been issuing statements that are not to Mamata Banerjee’s liking. His warnings to the attackers of Ram Navami processions that they would be dealt with very sternly is said to have angered Mamata Banerjee.
The earlier cordiality between the Raj Bhavan and Nabanna is now history. Acrimony is set to replace that now.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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