Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose is in a difficult situation

KOLKATA: When West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose was appointed as the governor on November 23, 2022, no one would have imagined that less than two years later, he would be at the centre of unseemly controversies. According to observers, Bose is on the verge of losing his post following a series of gaffes and allegations that have left Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose between a rock and a hard place. With the Trinamool Congress primed for a fight and the BJP seemingly cold and indifferent amid allegations of sexual abuse, the governor’s days could be numbered.

However, Bose, a retired IAS officer, began his tenure in a different way, replacing Jagdeep Dhankhar, who left office to take up the vice presidency of India. Dhankhar had caused problems for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, and was seen as closely aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Dhankhar was known for his assertive and confrontational style, which often clashed with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the state government. He often publicly criticised the state administration and questioned its decisions. His tenure was marked by high-profile disputes and media coverage, reflecting his active and vocal stance on various issues. This approach was polarising and garnered both support and criticism.

Bose’s tenure began auspiciously, marked by a remarkable, if brief, honeymoon with the Trinamool Congress and its supremo Mamata Banerjee. His effusive praise for the chief minister, which included comparing her to Durga and putting her poems on the same pedestal as those of Rabindranath Tagore, raised eyebrows, but also underlined his desire to have a cordial relationship with the volatile leader.

The Bengali bhadrolok (elegant people) class, tired of the daily skirmishes of their predecessor, also appreciated the new governor, especially when it was learnt that his father had named him Bose as a tribute to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. His desire to learn Bengali was also welcomed.

The BJP, smarting from the electoral setback in the previous year’s Assembly elections, disapproved of the cordiality but could do little. However, the fairy tale soon unravelled.

The first controversy came when he sacked his principal secretary Nandini Chakravarty, alleging that she was an accomplice of Mamata Banerjee and was leaking Raj Bhavan plans to the state government. He also felt that Chakravarty’s role and decisions were not in line with his own expectations and the policies of the central government.

Soon after, the Governor’s frequent and public disagreements with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and state officials heightened political tensions and gave the impression of a breakdown in communication and cooperation between the state and the Governor’s office.
Instances where he was perceived to be interfering in state administrative matters beyond the advisory role expected of a governor created controversy and resentment and were seen as encroachments on the powers of the elected state government.
While the Trinamool Congress claimed BJP influence in its actions, the BJP found its access to the Raj Bhavan greatly reduced.

“Dhankhar-ji was a straight-talking governor who did not mince words. He was always ready to entertain BJP leaders and take on the Mamata Banerjee government. Our leaders like Suvendu Adhikari and Dilip Ghosh, who had enjoyed unfettered access to Dhankhar-ji’s Raj Bhavan, realised that the new governor did not have time to meet them,” says veteran BJP leader Rahul Sinha.

Some BJP leaders feel that Bose has not been firm enough in tackling the actions of the Mamata Banerjee-led state government. They feel that he has not sufficiently countered or questioned policies and decisions that the BJP opposes.
“In a politically charged environment like West Bengal, the BJP might have strategic expectations from the governor that it believes Bose has failed to meet, especially in the run-up to the elections,” says Subhamoy Maitra, a political observer.

Bose’s penchant for literary embellishments in his conversations and statements has also distanced him from the common man.

“I have never seen anyone exaggerate so much. Nobody understands what he says,” a senior journalist told The Sunday Guardian.

Even well-intentioned initiatives like opening a Peace Room at the Raj Bhavan after violent panchayat elections have only served to irritate the state government, observers say. “The Peace Room only gave it some media time. It did nothing productive,” said a veteran bureaucrat who retired recently.

Senior bureaucrats feel that Bose’s handling of crises, such as political instability and administrative disputes, has been uneven. While some praise his attempts to mediate and resolve conflicts, others believe he has not been effective enough in addressing the state’s problems.

The Governor had disputes with the state government over appointments and administrative decisions at state universities. Criticism of the state government’s handling of law and order situations, especially during political demonstrations or rallies, led to public disputes. Differences of opinion on policy implementation and governance have also been sources of conflict.

The state government either publicly confronted the governor or began to ignore him. High-ranking bureaucrats also followed suit.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Trinamool Congress filed a complaint with the Election Commission against Ananda Bose, alleging that he wore a Bharatiya Janata Party logo while attending a rally in Kolkata in January, indicating his support for the party in the Lok Sabha elections. The Trinamool Congress urged the election commission to take “appropriate action” against the Bengal governor and stop him from interfering in the electoral process.

But the final outcome was yet to come.

The governor was accused of sexual harassment by a woman who worked at the Raj Bhavan on a contract basis. The woman said Bose molested her on April 24, 2024, and again on May 2, 2024.

Bose denied the charges and said they were politically motivated.

When state Finance Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya criticised the governor after the allegations surfaced, Bose responded by banning her from attending the Raj Bhavan. In retaliation, Trinamool leaders decided to boycott the Raj Bhavan.

The Kolkata police launched an investigation into the allegations, but Bose used his authority to try to prevent the police from entering the Raj Bhavan.

Bose invoked his constitutional immunity under Article 361 to obstruct the state police investigation.

The former Raj Bhavan staffer, who had filed a complaint of abuse against Ananda Bose, on Wednesday approached the Supreme Court questioning how the constitutional immunity granted to the governor could curtail her fundamental right to life. The case is likely to come up for hearing early next week.

The woman urged the high court to direct the police to “conduct an inquiry based on the sexual allegations levelled by her”. She also sought protection and security for herself and her family and compensation for loss of reputation and dignity. She questioned the manner in which the Raj Bhavan branded her a “liar” and the governor gave “himself a thumbs down”.

In her petition, the woman said she had been “made voiceless and rejected to a life of depravity and ridicule” and that she was in “extreme distress” and had “no desire to live a life with such a black mark on her character”. Arguing that while Article 361 grants the governor immunity from criminal proceedings while he is performing his duties, she questioned how could “sexual harassment and abuse be part of the functions of the governor”. She added that in such a case she would get no remedy and the only option for her would be to “wait for the accused to vacate office”, a delay that would be difficult to explain during the trial, rendering the entire proceedings mere lip service, with no justice for her.

In an unprecedented move, Bose also filed a defamation suit against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. During an administrative meeting at the state secretariat on June 27, Banerjee had said, “Women have informed me that they are afraid to visit Raj Bhavan due to the recent incidents that have taken place there.”

Bose has written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking strict action against Chief Secretary BP Gopalika and two senior IPS officers (city police commissioner Vineet Kumar Goyal and central division deputy commissioner of police Indira Mukherjee) for conducting the probe into the sexual assault allegations.

In two letters to Shah, dated June 6 and June 20, Bose accused the officers of violating provisions governing All India Services (AIS) officers.

The communications with Shah, a ministry source said, were unprecedented as they contained detailed notes, along with examples, of how officers had allegedly violated AIS rules of conduct by behaving as “willing accomplices in the misdeeds of the ruling regime, in violation of the laws of the country.”

Bose’s stature was undermined when two newly elected MPs refused to come to the Raj Bhavan to take the oath. After a prolonged standoff, House Speaker Biman Banerjee downplayed the issue by calling a special session to administer the oath.

Although the Governor was the first to blink and, in a belated gesture late at night, authorized the Vice President to take his place, this too was ignored.

The Speaker administered the oath of office while the Governor protested and wrote to Speaker Droupadi Murmu, stating that the Speaker’s administration of the oath of office to the two newly elected Trinamool Congress MPs was a “violation of the Constitution”.

Bose’s letters, which had no discernible impact, and the BJP’s studied silence, have triggered speculation that he may be expelled from Bengal.