West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has complained that the Mamata Banerjee government is pulling the purse strings for the Raj Bhavan expenses so tight that he may not be able to offer biscuits with tea to the media at the next press meet.
Mr Dhankar said he had asked for a fund of Rs 30 to 40 lakh beyond the budgetary allocation for the Raj Bhavan. But the home secretary wrote back denying the funds, he said, citing constraints because of the coronavirus pandemic and Cyclone Amphan to "a governor who is a teetotaler and a vegetarian."
"Kya mazak ho raha hai (What is this joke)," the governor said switching briefly during his press meet Monday afternoon. "Free distribution of money but not even Rs 30 lakh for Raj Bhavan!"
The outburst came at the end of a tirade against the Chief minister for rushing to the rescue, as it were, of the state's Director General of Police. Earlier this month, the Governor had written to DGP Virender asking for clarifications on some law and order issues and asked him to come and meet him.
What appears to have upset Mr Dhankar is that the DGP did not show up on three different dates assigned to him and instead sent a brief written response to the Governor. The Chief Minister soon after wrote a 9-page letter to the Governor questioning his authority to demand information directly from officials of her government and the tone and tenor of his letter to the DGP.
"Time to sanitise power corridors," Mr Dhankar said, hitting out at both the Chief Minister and the top police officer. Accusing the police of becoming a "threat instead of a protector of human rights", the Governor said the government is "now functioning on police crutches" and the police are "in servitude and in crawl mode".
"Mounting electronic surveillance" had turned Bengal into a "face time state", Mr Dhankar said, and added that people of the state were wary of making a normal phone call out for fear of being tapped.
"Bengal now has all the trappings of a police state," he said.
This is not the first angry outburst by the Governor against the Bengal government. But he also issued something of a warning saying he "may have to look at Article 154 (1) of the Constitution" which says: "The executive power of the State shall be vested in the Governor and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with this Constitution."
Senior Trinamool Congress MP Sougata Roy said the Governor was exceeding his constitutional position and insulting the state with his threats.
"The Governor is only trying to strengthen the hands of the centre against the state," he said, adding, "the Governor is violating every Constitutional norm."
Mr Dhankar said, "If someone thinks that office of governor is ornamental, emasculated, rubber stamp post office, that is not so. This office has enough power to preserve the Constitution."
He has given a written response to Mamata Banerjee who left for a three-day tour of North Bengal on Monday afternoon, her first outstation visit after the pandemic broke out. Mamata Banerjee may respond after she returns to Kolkata.
The duel between the elected head of government and the Governor is likely to continue till the 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal.