The West Bengal Assembly on Monday passed a bill to replace Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as the Chancellor of all state-run universities, amid opposition by BJP legislators. The tussle over administration of state-run universities is the latest flashpoint between the Mamata Banerjee government and the Governor, with the two sides having indulged in multiple feuds since 2019 when Dhankhar assumed charge in West Bengal.
State education minister Bratya Basu, after introducing The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in the House, said there was “nothing wrong” with the Chief Minister taking over as the Chancellor. “Why can’t the Chief Minister be the Chancellor of state universities if the prime minister is the Chancellor of central university Visva Bharati? You can go through the recommendations of the Punchhi Commission… “The governor, who is the present chancellor, has violated rules and protocols on various occasions,” Basu claimed.
The Punchhi commission had recommended that the convention of appointing governors as chancellors should be discontinued. Later, talking to reporters, Basu said he was hopeful that the governor would sign the bill. “After I became education minister, I have sent him (governor) 17 files. But we couldn’t agree on a single matter. If I send three names for the post of vice-chancellor, he will reject them all. He will then send the name of a fourth person who is close to the BJP and also tweet about it. Is he ‘Twitter Acharya (Twitter chancellor)’?” the minister wondered.
State parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee said the bill was introduced in the House in accordance with necessary constitutional norms. “We don’t want to disrespect the post of governor, but he has triggered several controversies through his actions. It is high time we should do away with this British-era norm,” Chatterjee said.
Opposing the bill, the BJP alleged that appointing the chief minister as chancellor would lead to “direct political interference” in the state’s higher education system. “The state government wants to control everything. The decision to appoint the CM as chancellor of universities is being taken to facilitate direct interference of the ruling party in the state’s education system,” BJP MLA Agnimitra Paul alleged. Leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari, who could not attend the proceedings owing to his suspension by the speaker in the wake of a ruckus in the House in March, said the BJP would request the governor not to ratify the bill and instead send it to the Centre as it falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution.
“We will request the governor to send it to Delhi as it falls under the concurrent list. And it would will be there (no decision will be taken on it), with the CM’s dream of becoming the chancellor remaining unfulfilled,” Adhikari told reporters outside the Assembly hall. Lashing out at Adhikari, the TMC claimed that his remarks prove that the “governor is acting as per the instructions of the BJP leaders”. “Hence PROVED! What we have been saying all along is now in front of everyone! Governor @jdhankhar1 and @BJP4India are hands in gloves to consistently hamper WB’s development.
Today, @SuvenduWB openly admitted how they influence the office of Governor!” the TMC tweeted. Speaking on the issue, TMC MP Sougata Roy said options before the governor are limited. “The governor has three options — he signs the bills, he sends it back to the assembly or he sits over the bill and sends it for president’s consent. If he returns it to the Assembly, we will pass it again and send it back to the governor. He has to sign it then,” Roy maintained.
The bill was passed in the 294-member House after 182 members voted in favour of the legislation and 40 against it. Adhikari, however, claimed that 57 BJP MLAs were present in the House, and the voting didn’t occur following norms. “We want to know if 57 MLAs BJP MLAs were present inside the House, how come only 40 voted against it. It has to be rechecked.
If the issue is not resolved, we will move court,” he said. Reacting to his allegations, Basu suggested that the leader of the opposition should first set his own house in order. “He should check with his MLAs and then point fingers at others,” he said. Dhankhar, who shares an acrimonious relationship with the state government, recently locked horns with the TMC dispensation over appointment of vice-chancellors (VCs) at state-run varsities. He had alleged that vice-chancellors of “24 universities have been appointed illegally without the chancellor’s approval”.
In December last year, the governor had expressed anguish after chancellors and vice-chancellors of private universities skipped a meeting called by him at his official residence. Miffed with the actions of the Raj Bhavan occupant, Banerjee, on several occasions, had written to the Centre to remove him from the post. Banerjee, in January, had said she had “blocked” the Governor on Twitter, accusing him of treating “everybody as a bonded labourer.”