Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay & Gourisankar Nag

The BJP leadership decided to nominate Bengal Governor Dhankher as the next vice-president of the NDA camp. As a result of this decision, there was a temporary break in the atmosphere of conflict between Raj Bhaban & Navanna of Bengal. According to sources, the TMC has agreed in principle to support Dhankher as the vice president, despite the conflict as Governor.

But after Dhankher, who would be the next Governor of Bengal? Hair-splitting analysis has already begun in state politics. Many names are involved in this political speculation. But such a person from the BJP camp needs to be appointed as the Governor of Bengal to rule the state well constitutionally till the end of the next Lok Sabha elections of 2024 and the state government can be put under pressure.

It would be better to mention here that although Dhankher had a previous identity as a politician, representative and jurist, he was appointed as the Governor of Bengal in 2019. Besides, he comes from a simple farmer family. Interestingly, since inception, he has been in conflict with the Bengal State Government of which he is the Governor.  His relationship with the Bengal Government, of which he was the Governor, was never cordial.

This conflict started within 15 days of his joining as Governor. He has frequently been accused of opening a camp of opposition politics in the Raj Bhavan itself. On the other hand, he regularly criticizes the working style of the existing government, Chief Minister and ministers at every post.

Similarly, the Dhankher-Mamata meeting was held in Darjeeling just a few days ago. On the same day, he came down to Bagdogra Airport and attacked the state administration vehemently. He called out the Chief Minister of WB as most undemocratic. After that, Mamata Banerjee went to Darjeeling Raj Bhavan to meet Dhankher at his invitation. According to many critics, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma was present to convey the message to Mamtaji that Dhankher’s name was being considered for the vice-presidential post by the Centre.

However, after the meeting in Raj Bhavan Mamataji told the reporters that it was just a courtesy call; but after the meeting, the Governor left Bagdogra Airport for Delhi. Thereafter the BJP Parliamentary Board took the historic decision. Before that, the Governor held a meeting with Home Minister Amitji and Modiji.

However, critics say that from the beginning the Governor is not communicating with the Chief Minister of the state, which Mamtaji has repeatedly stated in Delhi. Angered by Dhankher’s role, the state government moved an unprecedented impeachment motion against the Governor in the Assembly; a proposal to curtail various powers of the Governor, such as his powers as Chancellor (Acharya) has been passed under the new law. Although some of those laws, such as the Acharya Bill, have been passed by the Assembly, they are pending the assent of the Governor. Besides, the bill to divide Howrah-Bally Municipality is also pending.

Informed circles believe that the BJP leadership intended to send a positive message to Mamta Banerjee ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, 2024 by removing Dhankher amid the conflict between the two warring camps. Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, this change is particularly meaningful.  It must be kept in mind here that except presiding over the session of the Rajya Sabha, the post of Vice President is formal.

In that case, many people think that Dhankher has been repeatedly accused of playing politics in the Raj Bhavan of Bengal.  Therefore, he was removed and apparently given a place where there was respect and dignity. But the current post is not related to West Bengal in any way. It can be said metaphorically that through this act ‘even the snake died and the stick did not break’.

By contrast, the ruling camp of Bengal intends to explain the matter in this way: Dhankher did not compromise on the question of his political loyalty to the BJP despite being the Governor who should be non-partisan. From the beginning, he walked the path of criticism and made Mamtaji and her party uncomfortable at various times. Even the 2021 elections, which were a battle of prestige for the BJP, the Governor with his wife voted as a Bengali voter. Many political commentators are also saying that the BJP leadership has chosen Dhankher’s name for the post of vice president as a reward for trying to get into conflicts with Mamtaji.

It should not be forgotten that the clash between the ruling TMC in West Bengal and Governor Dhankher became a regular occurrence. I think in post-colonial India, no other state has seen such day to day strained relations between the CM and Governor. Initially there was no official response from the TMC for nominating Dhankher as NDA’s Vice Presidential candidate. However, the party’s senior MP Sougata Roy said, ‘where did the minority face of the BJP go in the post of Vice President? It is difficult to say whether it will be beneficial for Bengal TMC for leaving the post of governor on his part. But at least the unnecessary everyday punching will stop.’

On the other hand, after some time, a person from the opposition party was presented for the post of Vice President. Margaret Alva, 80, was unanimously chosen by leaders of 17 opposition parties to be the joint opposition candidate for the country’s second top constitutional post.

Interestingly TMC & AAP these two opposition political parties were absent in the meeting of opposition parties for selecting the name of opposition candidate for the Vice Presidential election. Mamtaji also did not clarify her position on the post of Vice president; it can be said that it is kept in a kind of haze. However, with the BJP enjoying a majority for the vice presidential poll, Dhankher is all, but certain to beat his more experienced rival to the important constitutional post.

Another important question is who can take Dhankher’s vacant place in the Raj Bhavan of Bengal. After Jagdip Dhankher, who is going to be the resident of Raj Bhavan? Ever since the BJP’s Parliamentary Board chose Dhankher as its vice-presidential candidate, there has been speculation as to who will be the next Governor of Bengal. Especially when the Lok Sabha Elections will be held just after two years.

The BJP camp is desperate to get good results in the state this time too. In this atmosphere, strong speculation started about who will be appointed as the Governor of West Bengal. According to some BJP sources, the party is eying UP Shia Muslim leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who recently resigned from the Rajya Sabha and Union ministry. Again, the name of Trinamool MP, Shisir Adhikari, once elected from Bengal, is also being considered.

Incidentally, Shisir Adhikari is the father of state opposition leader Shuvendu Adhikari (BJP), who defeated Mamtaji in the Vidhan Sabha Elections of 2021 in Nandigram seat.

Jagdip Dhankher became the Governor of Bengal in 2019. Usually, before finalizing the name of the Governor of a state, the Union Home Minister consults with the Chief Minister of that state. Although this discussion is not mandatory, it is customary in a federal framework.

But in the case of Dhankher, allegtions arose that after his name was announced as the governor, the Union Home Minister Amitji called the Chief Minister Mamtaji to inform her about the appointment of the governor. Mamtaji openly expressed her anger. As a result, the rift that initially formed around Dhankher’s appointment widened over time. And thus, bitterness reached its peak.  The state government moved an unprecedented impeachment motion against the Governor in the Assembly.

Therefore, the million dollar question is what will happen in this journey? Will Amitji call Mamtaji before appointing the Governor?  The BJP leadership is intending to send a positive message to Mamta Banerjee ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, in 2024 by removing Dhankher amid the conflict between the two warring camps.

But the question is, the new governor who will take charge of the post in coming days, will he maintain the path of conflict  or will he walk down the path of reconciliation? At the moment, Mr. Nakvi is leading the race to become the Governor of West Bengal, as per the BJP sources. He is a senior leader and he was also Mamtaji’s one-time companion in Vajpayee’s ministerial meeting.

As a political leader, Naqvi is much more skillful and shrewd. Many politicians think that, unlike Dhanker, he will not openly oppose Mamtaji. Moreover, attacking Naqvi directly will likely affect minority votes. While this issue will make Mamtaji uncomfortable, making Naqvi the Governor of Bengal will give a positive message to the Muslims of the state.

As per the law, Governor Dhankher had to resign on Monday (18th July) after the submission of his nomination papers for the post of Vice President. As per sources, the current Governor of Manipur, L. A. Ganeshan, will handle the work of the Governor of Bengal as an additional responsibility for the time being.

Read more by Gouri Sankar Nag and Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay here:

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About the Authors

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Dr Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay, Associate Professor of Political Science at the PG Department of Political Science, Hooghly Mohsin College, West Bengal. 

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Dr Gourisankar Nag, Professor in Political Science at Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University.