A new round of confrontation between West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and the Mamata Banerejee government seem to be looming after the state cabinet on Thursday decided to have Chief Minister as the Chancellor of all state universities instead of the Governor.
This is for the first time that the state government has taken such an initiative to break the protocol, persisting since Independence, of having the Governor as Chancellor of the state universities.
Following the state cabinet meeting at the state Secretariat, Nabanna, Education Minister Bratya Basu said that the state government will bring a bill in the Assembly proposing that the Chief Minister, not the Governor, will be the Chancellor of the state universities.
"Once the bill is passed in the Assembly, it will be sent to the Governor for his assent. In case the Governor refuses to clear the bill, the state government will bring an ordinance to implement this change of practice," he said.
The development comes at a time when the state government and the ruling Trinamool Congress is already in a fix over the ongoing Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe on the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) recruitment irregularities where two ministers of the state government have already been grilled by the central agency sleuths.
Till this report was filed there was no reaction from the Governor on this matter. However, the opposition parties have criticized the initiative.
BJP's state spokesman, Shamik Bhattacharya said that this is a direct attempt to have a control over the autonomy of the state universities. "Since the beginning the Chief Minister had been trying to run the state as an independent entity and hence, she has taken such a decision which no state government has done before. This is against tradition and convention," he said.
CPI-M Central Committee member and former leader of Left in the Assembly, Dr Sujan Chakraborty, contended that this initiative is aimed at having direct administrative and political control over the state universities.
"The decision has been taken at a time when roles of several state ministers and officers are in question because of rampant corruption in the education sector. This is complete politicisation of the functioning of the state agencies. On one hand, the Chief Minister is demanding complete autonomy for the central agencies, and on the other, she is trying to destroy the autonomous nature of the state universities," he said.
Educationists seemed to be divided over this development.
Educationist, political analyst and former Principal of the then Presidency College, Dr Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay said that the Chief Minister is the administrative head of the state and a political personality.
"So, the event of the Chief Minister being the Chancellor of the university means political interference in the independent functioning of the institutions. Traditionally and conventionally the Governors, by virtue of their chairs, had been the Chancellors of the state university. I do not find any reason to break away from that convention," he said.
Renowned historian and Sanskrit scholar, Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, however, welcomed the decision.
"Current West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar had been creating many obstacles for the state government to function properly. The Governor is holding back many files including those relating to appointment Vice Chancellors of universities. So, the state government had no other option but to take this decision. I welcome this move," he said.