KOLKATA: Though the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) is yet to make its decision on the Vice-Presidential election official, the delay in announcing its support has created a lot of buzz in political circles.
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Jagdeep Dhankhar’s ‘run-ins’ with AITC supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is well documented. In his previous role as the state Governor, Dhankhar brought his political acumen as well as experience as a lawyer to the fore in keeping the mercurial Banerjee on her toes on many occasions.
Dhankhar, who was one of the key figures in getting OBC status for Jats, was appointed as Bengal’s Governor on July 30, 2019, with an explicit role to become the eyes and ears of the Centre ahead of the assembly elections in 2021.
Despite Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) impressive show, AITC belied all expectations to win 213 seats in the 294-seat state assembly.
Following the elections, it was Governor Dhankhar who played an important role in keeping a check on the Banerjee government – resulting in various moments of disagreement and confrontation between the elected representative and the constitutional head.
With the Bengal BJP battling with exits, mostly of opportunistic AITC leaders who had joined the national party ahead of the election, it was 71-year-old Dhankhar who used social media to play the role of Opposition in the state.
Dhankhar, a former Union minister of parliamentary affairs in the short-lived Chandra Shekhar-led government in the early 90s, played a super active role especially on official social media handles in opposing state government or reacting to issues related to the state.
Since August last year, Dhankhar did not miss any opportunity to take on the government on various issues.
One of his the Twitter posts from the Bengal Governor’s official handle was against the state’s law and order situation. “WB Guv appeals to Civil Society, Intelligentsia and Media to break silence and highlight worrisome governance scenario of extreme appeasement, communalised patronage, Mafia Syndicate Extortion in state as this would help enhancing of democratic values & human rights protection (sic),” he tweeted.
On July 22, Bengal assembly passed a bill to make Banerjee the chancellor of universities but the Governor returned the bill. Later he tweeted that the Governor’s constitutional post appoints Ms Mukherjee as the next Vice Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University under the Rabindra Bharati Act, 1981.
Earlier in March, when eight people, six women and two children, were burnt to death in violence that erupted at Baktui village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, the Governor described the incident as an ‘arson orgy’.
In a video message, Governor Dhankhar had said, “The administration is required to rise above partisan interests which in spite of cautions is not being reflected in reality.”
In January this year, the relationship between Banerjee and Dhankhar reached a new low when the CM blocked Dhankar’s Twitter handle stating “… as if we are his bonded labourers”.
He was also at the forefront of the criticism of the Bengal government in the aftermath of the super cyclonic storm Amphan in May 2020.
Criticising the Bengal government’s decision to seek the Army’s help three days after the disaster, Dhankhar tweeted, “Urge Mamata – be in touch with Guv – had this been done army would have been called 3 days back”. He also tagged the Chief Minister’s official Twitter handle.
Dhankhar was also critical of the state government’s handling of post-assembly poll violence in May 2021. He visited camps in Purba Medinipur, where people, mainly from Nandigram, where Banerjee contested and lost, took shelter.
“…We feel bad to see the situation of West Bengal. India has never seen such a situation previously. The State is virtually sitting on a volcano,” Dhankhar had said during his visit.
He also mentioned that CM must understand the plight of people and give attention to the post-poll violent situation here and elsewhere.
Not one to be quiet, AITC also retorted to Dhankhar’s acts by terming him as “BJP’s agent”. As Dhankhar blamed the AITC for the state’s deteriorating law and order situation, AITC accused him of overstepping his constitutional delineation and doing partiality.
While the opinion is divided on whether Dhankhar is successful in keeping a check on the irrepressible Banerjee and her AITC, it is clear that the man from Rajasthan gave enough glimpse of his political acumen in handling contentious situations with a finesse that is a hallmark of a seasoned politician.
Perhaps, it is his role in keeping a tab on a seasoned politician like Banerjee, a stalwart in her own right, that helped pave the way back to Delhi for Dhankhar.