The public spat between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi today degenerated into a bitter fight, with the TMC accusing the Governor of crossing the constitutional line and reminding him that the "Raj Bhavan cannot be the BJP's office", drawing sharp reaction from Tripathi. Senior TMC leader and minister Subrata Mukherjee even described Tripathi as "BJP's parrot".
The governor hit back saying it would be better if the chief minister and her colleagues worked for maintaining law and order instead of accusing him.
The unprecedented face-off between the chief minister and the governor came about as communal clashes broke out in West Bengal's North 24-Parganas district on the night of July 4 following an "objectionable" Facebook post.
Speaking to reporters, TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee charged, "The governor has crossed the constitutional line. The way he spoke to the chief minister yesterday, he has forgotten that it is not Uttar Pradesh." Chatterjee also said that the official residence of the governor cannot be the party office of the BJP.
"He is the ex-speaker of the (UP) Assembly. As a lawyer, he must be aware of the observation of the Supreme Court (on the relation) between the chief minister and the governor...So whatever he has said is an insult to the people of West Bengal," he charged.
Chatterjee said that the party has written to President Pranab Mukherjee, stating that "this is unbecoming of a governor".
A copy of the letter to the president was forwarded to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, he said.
Referring to the governor's statement yesterday asking how confidential talks came out in the open, Chatterjee said, "You (Tripathi) telephoned the chief minister only after a team of BJP leaders met you at the Raj Bhavan."
To a question on whether the TMC was demanding the governor's removal, Chatterjee said, "If the governor does not express regret for the way he had spoken to the chief minister, we will have to take the tough stand."
Alleging that the governor had asked the chief minister to manage her party, he remarked, "This is unprecedented. How can he ask her to manage her party members. Has he become the BJP spokesperson? He is the constitutional head."
Tripathi hits back
Dismissing Banerjee's allegations that he humiliated and insulted her, a statement issued by the Raj Bhavan quoting the governor said that the charges were "baseless and meant only to emotionally blackmail the people of the state".
"Instead of making accusations against him, it is better for the chief minister and her colleagues to direct their attention to maintain peace and law and order in the state without making any distinction on the basis of caste, creed or community. The governor is of the view that Raj Bhawan is not a department of the state government and is open to every citizen to approach him for redressal of his or her grievances," the statement said.
It said that the allegations of the chief minister amounted to "insulting and humiliating the governor and his office.
"It is wrong to say that Raj Bhawan has become the office of the BJP or the RSS," he said, adding, "Her (Banerjee's) allegation is baseless and is meant only to emotionally blackmail the people of West Bengal."
Tripathi said that the Raj Bhavan was not a department of the state government and was open to every citizen for redressal of his or her grievances. It said that the "Raj Bhavan is not expected to tear off or throw in the wastepaper basket the representations received by the Governor or his office from any person".
"Whenever any such representation is received from anyone, the same is forwarded to the state government for appropriate action," it said.
Taking exception to the TMC secretary-general's statement that he was crossing his constitutional limits, Tripathi said it was an attempt to cover up the lapses of the state government and divert attention from the main issue. "The governor is fully aware of his constitutional obligations and limitations and needs no lesson from anyone on this count," it stated.
On Banerjee's statement that a governor is a nominated person, Tripathi said, "True that the chief minister has been democratically elected by the people, but it should not be forgotten that the governor is also appointed by the president on the recommendation of a democratically elected Union government.
Mamata Banerjee yesterday accused Tripathi of threatening her and acting like a "BJP block president". The TMC supremo also said she even thought of quitting office over this "humiliation".
Centre steps in to defuse row
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Tripathi and Banerjee separately and is understood to have told them to resolve their differences amicably. As the Union Home ministry sought a report from the West Bengal government on the communal violence, Rajnath Singh in his separate telephonic conversations with Tripathi and Banerjee took stock of the prevailing situation Singh is said to have counselled Tripathi, a former BJP veteran and ex-speaker of Uttar Pradesh assembly, and Banerjee to resolve their differences amicably, official sources in New Delhi said.