Recent comments by West Bengal’s current governor about the Trinamool Congress government evoke memories of remarks that his predecessor had made about the then Left Front government.
“This has nothing to do with political culture. This is goondaism,” said M K Narayanan, the current governor, expressing outrage at the latest outbreak of political violence, involving largely Trinamool Congress musclemen who last week torched dozens of vehicles and assaulted a 70-year-old former CPM minister.
His predecessor, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, had reacted no less strongly to the 2007 firing in Nandigram that killed 14 villagers. “The news of deaths by police firing in Nandigram this morning has filled me with a sense of cold horror,” Gandhi had said.
As Gandhi’s comments did, Narayanan’s have now raised a debate over how much a governor, who holds a constitutional post, should air his political views, apart from bringing the two governors’ personalities into focus.
Governor Gandhi and Governor Narayanan assumed office in starkly different political circumstances. Gandhi had arrived in Bengal when the opposition, after three decades of unbroken communist rule, was just beginning to consolidate, a process that peaked with the Singur and Nandigram agitations. Political and bureaucratic sources say Gandhi acknowledged the new alignment of forces that was taking shape and assumed the role of a guardian, often trying to play an impartial judge.
Narayanan, on the other hand, took over the mantle when key political forces had realigned themselves, the transition having already started to take place. Politics was now extremely polarised, one reason why violence was mounting.
“Gandhi was emotional and flamboyant,” says a bureaucrat who has watched both governors work. “On at least two occasions I saw Gandhi in tears, once after he witnessed the plight of Nandigram villagers when he visited there, and again during a visit to Darjeeling where he saw the plight of starving workers of shut tea gardens. He made a detour of almost 150 km from Darjeeling to meet the workers, sought immediate reports from the government and ensured that they got food and medical relief.”
Narayanan, on the other hand, is probably not quite as impulsive though he is no less incisive, says the bureaucrat. He draws his strength from a deep reach in the bureaucracy; his letters and reports to the Centre, including those to the home ministry, are said to be much more aggressive than his manner suggests, and are backed by data and facts. Gandhi’s criticism