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West Bengal Police Vs BSF: 'Very, very dangerous move by Mamata'

The state police and the BSF should be inspired to jointly crackdown on criminals and anti-nationals and not the other way around where the local police should keep a watch on the BSF, says West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar in an exclusive interview with Asianet Newsable.

Exclusive West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar speaks to Asianet Newsable
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Kolkata, First Published Dec 11, 2021, 9:00 AM IST
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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and state Governor Jagdeep Dhankar are at loggerheads again, this time over the former's directive to the state police to not allow the Border Security Force to enter villages outside its jurisdiction. The Centre had recently introduced changes to the BSF Act which extended the force's jurisdiction to undertake searches, seizures and arrests from 15 km to 50 km from the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. 

Even as the Trinamool Congress chief put the state police on the warpath with the BSF, Asianet Newsable's Yacoob reached out to Governor Dhankar, who termed Chief Minister Mamata's as a potentially very, very dangerous move. We cannot be weak when it comes to the issue of national security, he said while lashing out at the ruling dispensation in West Bengal.

What do you make of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's remark asking the state police not to allow the BSF to enter villages without permission?

You see, she has issued (the directions) as a matter of fact. If you go by public domain inputs, she has given three directives: first, BSF should be confined to 15 kilometres. This is absolutely illegal because the area of BSF has legally increased to 50 kilometres (in border areas). So this directive is against the lawful order. Number 2, she has indicated that the BSF people should get the permission of the local police, which again is something that cannot be legally sanctified. Third, a more dangerous -- potentially very, very dangerous -- aspect is that the local police have to watch the BSF.

In a letter on December 9, you have said that Mamata Banerjee's stance is 'potentially alarming' for national security. Constitutionally, is there anything that the Governor's office can do to counter this diktat?

It is my responsibility under the Constitution to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and it is her (Mamata Banarjee) obligation to follow the constitutional law. If her actions are against the law -- and they are -- if you go through the BSF Act of 1984, the situation is very clear about what the BSF must do. You see, these matters must be handled delicately, keeping in view the federal spirit. As chief minister, she should create bonhomie, coordination, collaboration, and harmony so that these agencies work together. The state police and the BSF should be inspired to jointly crackdown on criminals and anti-nationals and not the other way around where the local police should keep a watch on the BSF.

She (CM) should follow the Constitution, and I will have to protect the Constitution. Just imagine the kind of situation is she creating. State and central agencies should serve the democracy. Similarly, they have to win harmony; they must win in tandem and together. Look at her orchestrated complaints. Most unfortunate. I do hope good sense prevails on her.

How does the extension of BSF jurisdiction safeguard national security?

The entire territory of Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and the whole territory of Jammu and Kashmir area is subject to BSF operation. And from 1973 itself, 80 kilometres (area of operation) is there in Gujarat, 50 kilometres in Rajasthan. Now, for two bordering states -- Punjab and West Bengal -- this has been done (an increase of BSF jurisdiction). It has a rationale. As you are aware today, Bengal has international borders with three countries. But we expect our Chief Minister, like anyone else, to follow the constitutional rule of law. 

Let me put it the other way around. If there are some issues at that level, we definitely need to sort them out. I have appealed to the chief minister -- and my appeal to the chief minister is very categorical -- I have indicated to her to generate bonhomie, generate coordination and bolster confidence so that state and central agencies are in a position to act in tandem and act in togetherness. And I am sure no person believing in the nation's security can ever appreciate such a stance (CM Mamata Banarjee's action asking state police to watch the BSF).

Solely, as a constitutional head enjoined with the obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the law, I cannot fiddle in this situation. I have questioned the chief minister, I have appealed to her. I have warned her that she must take immediate steps in the national interest, in the public interest and recall her statements and directives to the local police.

Concerning the BSF issue, the TMC has accused you of being a BJP spokesperson and lowering the dignity of the Governor's office. How do you respond to these charges?

We are in a state where governance is far from the Constitution, the rule of law. Under Article 167, it is the duty (of the chief minister) to give information to the Governor (on all subjects). She has failed for more than two years; not a single piece of information was provided. We cannot be weak when it comes to the issue of national security. We have told her to keep the 'nation first'. Her statements, if analyzed in the public interest, fall short of a leader's requirement.

The TMC also is accusing you of remaining silent about the demand made by a BJP MLA to separate Darjeeling from West Bengal. How do you respond to this allegation?

I don't know what you are talking about. No TMC communication has come to me. As a matter of fact, I had invited Sougata Roy, a senior TMC parliamentarian, to discuss the issues, not respond.

Let me tell you one thing. This narrative which the media afloat that 'TMC is saying so' is very unfortunate. The media needs to know the state of the situation in West Bengal. Today is Human Rights Day (December 10). The human rights commission has given a report earlier. In Bengal, we have the rule of the ruler, not of law. The state human rights commission is not holding any program today. And for the simple reason that it is on a ventilator, in the ICU, according to the SHRC chairman, a retired judge of the Kolkata High Court.

The fear in the mind of the people in West Bengal is so intense and severe that because of this fear, they are even unable to even talk about fear. As citizens of this great country, we must believe in democratic values, and those values can sustain only when governance is in accordance with its constitutional rule of law. In Bengal, the situation is very alarming. It is very, very dangerous. The recent post-poll violence we had, for the first time in the country since independence, has been so grave. There have been incidents of rape, murder, arson and whatnot. The government turned blind to rogues, and only now is the reality coming up. 

So the time has come when I appeal to the administration... and my biggest problem is the bureaucracy in West Bengal is thoroughly politicized and fully aligned with the ruling dispensation. The throttling of democracy is so severe that within the state, if someone wants to live, wants to do business, wants to serve or engage in politics, they are left with only one option -- either be with the ruling dispensation or suffer the wrath of it. It is high time the media destroys this.

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