It is seen as a fallout of the long-running battle between chief minister Mamata Banerjee and governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Mamata Banerjee led West Bengal cabinet decided on Thursday to introduce legislation in the state assembly to replace the governor with the chief minister as chancellor of all state-run universities. It is a move seen as a result of the long-running feud between chief minister Mamata Banerjee and governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.
“The cabinet unanimously decided that the chancellor of all state-run universities will be the chief minister in place of the governor. This decision will be placed before the legislative assembly in the form of a bill during the next session and a law will be passed,” education minister Bratyu Basu told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
According to sources in the West Bengal government, if the governor does not sign the bill, the administration will “take the ordinance route.” The dispute over university administration is the latest squabble between Mamata and Dhankhar.
The move is likely to create a new schism between Ms. Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. The state’s ruling party leaders have accused Governor of working with the central government to harass the Mamata Banerjee government on key issues.
According to the Bengal Raj Bhavan’s official website, the Governor is the Chancellor of 17 universities in the state by law. Among them are Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, Kalyani University, Rabindra Bharati University, Vidyasagar University, University of Burdwan, and North Bengal University.
The Governor is the Pradhana, or Rector, of Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the Chancellor.
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Governor Dhankhar claimed in January of this year that Vice Chancellors of 25 state universities in Bengal were appointed without his consent.
Dhankhar referred to the absence of chancellors and vice-chancellors of private universities in West Bengal. It was at a meeting called by him at Raj Bhavan in the same month as “shocking unionism.”
In April 2022, the governor requested a report from West Bengal Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi regarding a viral video showing the vice-chancellor of Aliah University being heckled by students. During the convocations of Calcutta University in January 2020 and Jadavpur University in December 2019, Governor Dhankhar faced similar protests.
And these are not just recent events, Dhankhar sparked a spat with the state government in February 2020. It was when he served a show-cause notice on Debkumar Mukhopadhyay, the vice-chancellor of Cooch Behar Panchanan Barma University. It said he failed to notify him of the university’s convocation.
The Mamata Banerjee government claimed that the Governor should have approved the names of the Vice Chancellors chosen by the search committee. If he did not, the Education Department has the authority to make the decision.
Sharp reaction from the Opposition:
The move has been criticized by the opposition who accused Mamata Banerjee led government of running an authoritarian regime.
“Mamata Banerjee wants to have all powers in her own hands. This is one such move in that direction. She wants to run an authoritarian regime where nobody can question her actions. This is a tactic to divert people’s attention from burning issues,” said Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.
“It is very clear that Mamata Banerjee wants to control everything in this state, so why leave out the universities? Is she even qualified to handle that post?” CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said.
Union Government also responded to the Bengal government’s decision. Union Minister of State for Education Subhas Sarkar stated that the Centre is reviewing University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines before taking any action.
Chief Minister vs Governor seems to be an ‘unending saga’ in West Bengal. Time and again BJP which is suffering from loss with prominent leaders switching back to TMC, tries to control the ongoings in state with its Governor. Mamata Banerjee on the other hand also seem to know how to handle these political skirmishes.