Kamla Beniwal, the governor who stood up to chief minister Narendra Modi

As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi found out the hard way that governor Kamla Beniwal was a hard nut to crack

(photo: @narendramodi/X)
(photo: @narendramodi/X) 

The last rites of 97-year-old Congress veteran Kamla Beniwal, who served as the first woman minister of Rajasthan and rose to become deputy chief minister and later governor of Gujarat, were held in Jaipur on 16 May, and attended by a number of Congress leaders and ordinary people. But the Congress leaders pointed out that the departed leader was not given her due, deprived as she was of a state funeral.

Rajasthan Congress president Govind Singh Dotasara said the state government had failed in its duty to give a befitting farewell to Kamla Beniwal, who was not only the state's first woman minister, but also  governor of three states, and a freedom fighter since her childhood. However, chief minister Bhajan Lal Sharma did visit the later governor's residence to pay homage.

As chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi found out the hard way that governor Kamla Beniwal was a hard nut to crack. She frequenly confronted Modi on various issues, and so frustrated was he with the governor that he wrote to the then prime minister against her.

The daughter of a freedom fighter and farmer from Gorir village in Jhunjhunu district, Beniwal took part in the Quit India movement as an 11-year-old. Her father encouraged her to study, and she went to Banasthali Vidyalaya, a rural school started by Rajasthan’s first chief minister Heera Lal Shastri. After her post-graduation, she worked as a teacher and then joined politics at the age of 27, winning the Vidhan Sabha election from Amer in 1952.

She served as a minister under chief ministers Mohan Lal Sukhadia, Barkatullah Khan, Harideo Joshi and Ashok Gehlot, and it was Gehlot who elevated her to the deputy chief minister position.

Published: undefined

She was made governor of Gujarat in 2009, and it was in Gandhinagar that she picked up cudgels against chief minister Narendra Modi over the appointment of the lokayukta (parliamentary ombudsman). During her tenure from November 2009 to July 2014, she clashed with Modi over a number of issues such as  compulsory voting, regularisation of illegal construction by levying a fee, 50 per cent reservation in local bodies etc.

But the sharpest confrontation came when Beniwal appointed retired high court judge R.A. Mehta as the lokayukta of Gujarat in 2011, against Modi’s wishes. The chief minister wrote to the prime minister to recall the governor and repeal the appointment of the lokayukta, with the state's BJP government alleging that this was a “breach of federal principles”.

The state government felt that elected representatives, not nominated persons like governors, should have the last word in such appointments. In the past, Mehta had been critical of the Modi government over the Narmada project and the 2002 riots.

Relations soured further when Modi’s government unsuccessfully challenged Mehta's appointment first in the high court and then in the Supreme Court. Eventually, Mehta declined to join as lokayukta because of the controversy.

Beniwal, however, apparently unmindful of the power Modi wielded, crossed swords with the chief minister again in 2012, when she sanctioned the prosecution of then fisheries minister Purushottam Solanki in an alleged Rs 400 crore fishing scam.

In 2013, Beniwal rejected and sent back the proposed Gujarat Lokayukta Commission Bill to the state Assembly. The new Bill sought to give all powers regarding the appointment of the state lokayukta to the chief minister, ending the role of the governor and the chief justice of the high court in appointing the ombudsman.

Published: undefined

"I am of the view that the provisions of Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill 2013 are detrimental to the interest of public welfare and the state legislature needs rethinking on the issues mentioned in the interest of the people of Gujarat," Beniwal said in the seven-page note sent with the Bill to the state government.

The governor also said the Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Bill 2013 gave absolute powers to the chief minister and council of ministers, and under the new definition, the lokayukta would be like a "caged parrot". 

Any state Bill, in order to become an Act, has to have the assent of the governor. If the governor was dissatisfied with the bill, he/she may return it to the Assembly for reconsideration. But governors must put their signature to a Bill if it is sent to them by the legislature for a second time, with or without modifications.

Expectedly, Beniwal became a thorn in the flesh for Modi, who wrote numerous letters of complaint to the President, and in July 2014, once the BJP-led NDA government came to power at the Centre, she was transferred as governor of Mizoram and subsequently Tripura.

Condoling her death, Modi posted on X: “Saddened by the passing away of Dr Kamla Beniwalji. She had a long  political career in Rajasthan, where she served the people with diligence. I had countless interactions with her whens he was the Governor of Gujar at and I was the Chief Minister. Condlolnce to her  family and frinds. Om Shanti”.   

Her death was also mourned by former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, vice-president Jagdeep Dhankhar, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Gehlot himself.

Published: undefined

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: undefined