Chandigarh: After Tamil Nadu, Delhi and West Bengal, Punjab has become the latest non-Bharatiya Janata Party ruled state to see a round of tussle between the governor and the state government.
Tension between Punjab governor Banwarilal Purohit and the year-old Aam Aadmi Party government under chief minister Bhagwant Mann had been simmering for some time.
The first major conflict between them surfaced last year in September when Purohit denied permission to the Mann government to hold an special assembly session, saying the legislative business proposed by Mann was unconstitutional.
But the slugfest between Purohit and Mann has turned into a full-blown war after Purohit in a letter dated February 13 lambasted the AAP government for apparent irregularities.
Purohit also suggested that decisions made by the Punjab government have reflected the growing influence of people close to AAP’s central leadership, claiming indirectly that the Mann government is being run by Arvind Kejriwal and his men from Delhi.
Purohit was a Congress leader and before becoming governor was now a BJP member from Maharashtra’s Nagpur. He claimed that he was constitutionally mandated to seek information on irregularities from the state government for the larger public interest.
Before his appointment as Punjab governor, he was governor of Tamil Nadu, where the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government and the present governor R.N. Ravi are also in tug of war.
The Mann government has hit back, alleging that Purohit’s frequent interferences are undertaken at the behest of the BJP government at the Union to run down a popularly elected government. This is a charge similar to what other opposition-ruled governments have accused BJP of.
Governors are appointed by the President of India at the recommendation of the Union government, which means that they are perceived to be answerable to the party in power in Delhi.
In his letter dated February 13, Governor Purohit questioned the presence of Naval Aggarwal in meetings of senior officers, where sensitive and confidential matters, concerning the security of the country are discussed.
Pb Governor Banwari Lal Purohit lambasted at CM Bhagwant Mann over various issues, comprising illegalities in selection of Principals sent to Singapore, Appointment of Chairperson of Infotech alleged for kidnapping and property grabbing, promotion of IPS Kuldeep Chahal etc.. pic.twitter.com/4p1kSXBcuI
— Taruni Gandhi (@TaruniGandhi) February 13, 2023
Aggarwal, as per the charge of opposition parties in Punjab, has been playing the role of monitoring the Punjab government for the AAP leadership in Delhi.
Purohit also questioned the appointment of an allegedly ‘tainted’ person – Gurinderjeet Singh Jawanda – as chairman of Punjab Information and Communication Technology Corporation Ltd, saying he was accused in a property grabbing and kidnapping case.
The governor also hit out at the Mann government for failing to disburse scholarship for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe students. He also cited the fact that Mann not removed the ‘illegally’ appointed Vice-Chancellor of PAU, Satbir Singh Gosal.
He asked the CM to send him criteria and details on the selection process of school principals who are to be sent to Singapore for training.
Raising the issue of former Chandigarh SSP Kuldeep Singh Chahal, the governor accused the CM of choosing to ignore the misdeeds of the officer and promoting him.
Chahal was repatriated to Punjab following allegations of misconduct.
“You have not only promoted him but also posted him as Commissioner of Jalandhar and that too the orders being issued just before January 26, knowing very well that I was to unfurl the national flag at Jalandhar,” the governor added.
“I had to instruct the DGP that the officer concerned should maintain distance during the ceremony. On this issue it seems that this officer was your blue-eyed boy and you chose to ignore facts that were brought to your notice by this office,” Purohit added.
In response, Mann questioned Purohit’s role behind the targeting.
“I am accountable only to three crore Punjabis. I am not accountable to the Governor appointed by the Central government,” Mann tweeted just after Purohit’s February 13 letter was publicised.
ਮਾਣਯੋਗ ਰਾਜਪਾਲ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਤੁਹਾਡੀ ਚਿੱਠੀ ਮੀਡੀਆ ਜ਼ਰੀਏ ਮਿਲੀ..ਜਿੰਨੇ ਵੀ ਚਿੱਠੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਵਿਸ਼ੇ ਲਿਖੇ ਨੇ ਓਹ ਸਾਰੇ ਸਟੇਟ ਦੇ ਵਿਸ਼ੇ ਹਨ …ਮੈਂ ਅਤੇ ਮੇਰੀ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਸੰਵਿਧਾਨ ਅਨੁਸਾਰ 3 ਕਰੋੜ ਪੰਜਾਬੀਆਂ ਨੂੰ ਜਵਾਬਦੇਹ ਹੈ ਨਾ ਕਿ ਕੇਂਦਰ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਦੁਆਰਾ ਨਿਯੁਕਤ ਕਿਸੇ ਰਾਜਪਾਲ ਨੂੰ .ਇਸੇ ਨੂੰ ਮੇਰਾ ਜਵਾਬ ਸਮਝੋ..
— Bhagwant Mann (@BhagwantMann) February 13, 2023
A day later, on February 14, Mann took his fight with Purohit to another level.
“You asked me about the basis for the selection of principals for sending them to Singapore for training. Before asking the state government to explain the criteria for sending principals to Singapore, the Governor must explain the qualifications being adopted by the Government of India for appointing a person to this coveted post,” a state government statement said, quoting the CM.
Mann stressed that there are “no fixed qualifications” laid down in the constitution for the appointment of governors.
“Please increase the knowledge of Punjabis with a reply,” he said in the letter written in Punjabi.
He also said that the state’s decisions should be taken by elected representatives and not by ‘selected’ ones, even as the ruling party demanded that Purohit be immediately shifted elsewhere.
‘Governor overstepping but Mann govt can’t escape too’
As expected, opposition parties in Punjab, including Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal have been rallying behind Purohit and seeking explanations from the Mann government on the specific issues he raised.
Those close to the AAP establishment have, meanwhile, claimed that the governor is over-stepping and deliberately released his letters to the chief minister to the media.
Purohit’s letter to Mann appears to illustrate why he chose to release the letters:
“As per Article 167 of the Constitution of India, Punjab CM is bound to furnish [the Governor] with full details and information asked by me. But you have not furnished the same and never cared to reply and treated all my queries with contempt.”
“To maintain cordial relations I have not revealed these letters to the press because I thought you will fulfil the mandate of the constitution but now it appears to me that you have decided to ignore my letters and I am compelled to release these letters to the press/media.”
Commenting on the situation, senior journalist and former AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu said that as per the constitution, a governor can intervene in exceptional circumstances especially when an elected government losses the popular mandate.
“In past, governors in Punjab never interfered in day-to-day affairs of the government as is being done by Purohit. But the response of the Mann government to his letter is also not in good taste,” he added.
Moreover, some of the issues that the governor raised cannot be entirely dismissed either, Sandhu said.
Note: This article has been edited since publication with the name of the current Punjab Info-tech chairman. An earlier version had mentioned the previous chairman.