Is Jagdeep Dhankar becoming a liability and is it time for him to occupy the Raj Bhavan in Lucknow ?

No Governor has served as an agent of the party in power at the Centre as openly as Dhankhar has done in Bengal. He may prove to be an asset for BJP in poll bound Uttar Pradesh, muses SNM Abdi

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar

S N M Abdi

Soon after Ajay Mohan Bisht alias Yogi Adityanath became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in March 2017, I accompanied a senior central government official to the Raj Bhawan in Kolkata.

The official, who grew up in Lucknow before joining the civil services, knew Keshari Nath Tripathi – West Bengal Governor from mid-2014 to mid-2019 – pretty well. As we go back a long way, I agreed to go with him to chit chat with Tripathi over a cup of tea, sandwiches and samosas in the Governor House.

A perfect gentleman, Tripathi wore his Lucknow tehzeeb and tarbiyat on his sleeve. But he had a grouse which he aired unreservedly and unhesitatingly in friendly company. Without any prodding, he said that he would have made a far better CM of UP than Adityanath.

Tripathi could well have -- considering that he was a veteran BJP leader who was a former state president of BJP in UP and served thrice as Speaker of the UP legislative assembly. He felt that a great injustice had been done to him by Narendra ModiAmit Shah. We tried to console him by saying that Adityanath had forcibly grabbed the post and Modi-Shah caved in to avoid a scene. But Tripathi kept shaking his head from side to side contradicting us as politely as he could.

What’s done can’t be undone. Tripathi is now nearing 87 and has slid into obscurity. But today there is a very strong case for sending Tripathi’s successor in West Bengal – Jagdeep Dhankhar – to UP right away as Governor! Dhankhar should swap Raj Bhawans with Ananidben Patel.

Dhankhar could play a useful role in UP for the BJP by decimating the Opposition and ensuring the BJP’s re-election in 2022. ModiShah should weaponise him to smother antiBJP forces in the country’s politically most important state. Ensconced in the Lucknow Raj Bhavan, he will prove to be an ally and asset for the saffron camp which Patel is simply incapable of. The BJP must harness his Bengal experience to recapture power in UP. If Dhankhar remains in Calcutta, a constitutional crisis and ugly scenes can’t be ruled out. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, tigress-empress of West Bengal, has bluntly and publicly said that she has written not once or twice but thrice to the Modi government to remove Dhankhar. Which means that he has clearly overstayed his welcome. In his own interest, he should find another gubernatorial station – preferably Lucknow - before Banerjee makes his life more miserable than it already is.

Banerjee has just called Dhankhar a “corrupt” BJP politician who has been “named in the Jain Hawala case chargesheet”. Dhankhar has dutifully dismissed the salvo but this is the first time a Governor is being openly called a thief by a CM. Knowing how Trinamool Congress deals with adversaries, “Go back Dhankhar” and “Dhankhar Murdabad” slogans and banners might soon be replaced by “Gali gali mein shor hai, Governor Dhankhar chor hai”. If the whole state, especially the Raj Bhawan gates, reverberates with this war cry, where will Dhankar hide? No ear plug will help.

Dhankhar will depart someday only to be remembered as West Bengal’s most unwanted Governor. No Governor has served as an agent of the party in power at the Centre as dangerously and conspicuously as Dhankar has done. After the electoral rout, the BJP top leadership is using him to slander the Trinamool Congress dispensation in violation of all constitutional norms and traditions spanning seven decades.

The Centre seems to have pulled out all stops. It is even promoting other Dhankhars! Alarmingly, the West Bengal Bar Council chairman, Ashoke Deb, who is a Trinamool MLA, has asked the Chief Justice of India in writing to remove the Calcutta High Court Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal for being “unfair, partial and biased” against the state government. Questioning Bindal’s “character” and “conduct”, Deb says that he has “made a mockery of the judicial conscience” in tandem with the CBI. Deb could well have bracketed the Governor with CBI and Bindal.

Last month, Trinamool Congress MP and lawyer Kalyan Banerjee said on live television that Dhankhar is “roaming around like a mad dog”, criticising the Governor’s frequent trips to all corners of West Bengal to buck up the defeated BJP. Another Trinamool Congress lawmaker, Mahua Moitra, has exposed how Dhankhar is appointing his relatives and cronies as OSDs burdening the exchequer.

Another flashpoint is likely on July 2 when Dhankhar addresses the Budget session of the assembly. He is unhappy with the text of the speech prepared by the state government and approved by cabinet which he is constitutionally bound to faithfully read out. He is insisting on the inclusion of BJP’s allegations on law and order after the polls in the address but the CM has firmly said no.

Before Banerjee and her boys – and girls – humiliate and insult Dhankhar anymore and strip him of whatever little dignity and respect is left for his high office, he should convince Modi-Shah to airdrop him in the Lucknow Raj Bhawan. Banerjee and Anandiben Patel – a former CM – might be able to repair the torn fabric of Governorstate government ties if the two women decide to.

(The writer is an award-winning journalist based in Kolkata. Views are personal)

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