Cut to Bengaluru, May 2018. The Karnataka polls yielded an inconclusive verdict although the BJP was the single largest party. Governor Vajubhai Vala — a loyalist of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Gujarat — called B S Yediyurappa, the BJP’s legislature party leader, to form the government and gave 15 days for a floor test. Yediyurappa was short of the half-way mark and had not mustered the required support. The Congress moved the apex court that ordered an immediate vote of confidence. The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) got the numbers and Yediyurappa backed off. The difference was unlike Razi, Vala was spared a major embarrassment but the power dynamics at work in Raj Bhavans and the legislatures remained the same.
“A governor is appointed by the Centre and holds office at its pleasure. It’s unlikely that incumbents will work contrary to what the Centre desires, whether it’s the BJP or the Congress,” said a senior BJP leader. Lately, Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Jagdeep Dhankar, the governors of Maharashtra
and West Bengal, virtually emerged as the main challengers to the non-BJP governments for different reasons.
Koshyari sat on a recommendation from the Maha Vikas Aghadi Cabinet to nominate Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray
from his quota to the Legislative Council because holding elections to fill in the eight vacancies appeared almost impossible in the current circumstances. As the May 28 deadline to elect Thackeray approached, the CM of the Covid-19-ravaged state, sought the PM’s intervention. The Election Commission directed that elections to the House be held and a constitutional crisis was averted. In 2019, like Vala and Razi, Koshyari swore in Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister despite the BJP lacking the numbers. More tellingly, by then the Shiv Sena had snapped ties with the BJP, aligned with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to put together a government, and offered support letters that the governor disregarded. The apex court ordered a floor test before which Fadnavis quit.
So far, Dhankar has a mixed record in taking on West Bengal
CM Mamata Banerjee.
For instance, days after the national
lockdown when Sukanta Majumdar, the BJP’s Balurghat MP, violated the curfew and tried to reach a village in his constituency, he was stopped by the traffic police. Majumdar messaged Dhankar, who called and reprimanded the cop. The policeman stood his ground. The gloves came off when warts and blemishes in West Bengal’s pandemic management started showing. The government’s marked reluctance to audit the deaths and conduct tests was ammunition to the BJP. Dhankar sent a report to the Union home ministry, expressing “concern” over the alleged disregard of the lockdown protocol in “certain” areas that coincidentally were Muslim-dominated. Mamata was on the defensive.
However, BJP sources did not endorse Dhankar’s “pro-activism”. “A governor can’t be our answer to a powerful Mamata. We have to nurture a strong state leader but we haven’t. We can’t depend on entertainers and sportspersons to confront her,” an office-bearer said, alluding to the BJP’s attempts to project singer Babul Supriyo, former actor Roopa Ganguly, and BCCI President Sourav Ganguly as its frontline warriors.
In cherry-picking governors, the BJP dips into a pool of pracharaks, recommended by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its out-of-work seniors, former bureaucrats, and army and police officials. Those like Kiran Bedi — who’s neither a pracharak nor a BJP veteran — were “rewarded” for picking up the gauntlet when it was thrown at her and not losing heart in defeat. Bedi was the BJP’s CM candidate in Delhi against Arvind Kejriwal in 2015. She and the party lost but she was sent to Puducherry as lieutenant governor. Bedi lost little time in cornering the CM, V Narayanaswamy, for riding pillion helmetless on a scooter while campaigning for a by-poll in 2019. Their spat goes on.