Jan. 10: The Mamata Banerjee government was tonight trying to figure out how to deal with an unfamiliar voice: a governor who dared to say he talks like a governor.
Governor M.K. Narayanan not only publicly declared that he stood by his comments on the recent events in Bengal but also asserted that "I am the governor and I talk like a governor".
The no-nonsense statement came a few hours after the Trinamul government appeared to be hurtling down the path followed by its predecessor and fired a warning shot across the bows of Raj Bhavan.
From his seat of power in Writers' Buildings, senior minister Subrata Mukherjee said the governor should not speak "like a partyman" and the government was showing Narayanan a "yellow card". The minister warned of "tougher" words in the future, adding "we will keep a sharp watch on him".
The Trinamul Congress, used to unquestioning ways and obeisance, soon realised that it would take more than soccer terminology to silence a governor who once presided over national security affairs.
In his decorous but devastating style on which the Mamata government is getting a crash course from yesterday, Narayanan addressed the minister's ill-concealed threat with finesse: "I speak the language of the governor."
While the governor was on his way to Rabindra Sadan to watch a dance performance, a reporter asked him: "Minister Subrata Mukherjee has said you are speaking like a politician and not like a governor."
Governor: "I don't want to say what a minister says. I am the governor, perhaps you know that. I talk like a governor."
Later, on his way out of Rabindra Sadan, another reporter asked the governor: "Minister Subrata Mukherjee has said you are under the scanner now…. You are speaking a political language."
Governor: "I speak the language of the governor."
Reporter: "Do you stand by your comments?"
Governor: "Of course, I stand by my comments."
Tonight, minister Mukherjee responded by parroting the governor: "I also stand by my statement, just as the governor has done."
The day did not show the night. Before Mukherjee spoke, at least another Trinamul minister had shown restraint and put matters in perspective.
Around 2pm, Firhad Hakim, the urban development minister, had said: "The governor has not actually said anything against the government. As the constitutional head, he has every right to get perturbed when trouble occurs between two political parties. The chief minister has repeatedly asked the police to act impartially and seize illegal arms."
Industries minister Partha Chatterjee also called on the governor to invite him to Bengal Leads, next week's investor meet.
A faint change in tone came from Asansol where the chief minister addressed a rally this afternoon. At the fag end, Mamata said: "Do not believe in the canards being spread against the government, do not believe the misinformation…."
But the chief minister also appeared to be addressing the concerns of the governor because she added: "Do not believe in guns and bullets. I will not tolerate any violence and disturbance. The police have been asked to seize illegal arms."
It was against this backdrop that Mukherjee, who is not known to make controversial statements on his own, spoke at Writers' around 3pm.
"I read it in the newspaper this morning. I don't think he commented like a governor. People may get confused by his comments and can feel that he said all these things because he was nominated by the Congress. He should not comment like a partyman," said Mukherjee, the panchayat minister and former mayor.
"Right now, we are showing a yellow card to him and not using tough words. But that does not mean that we won't in the future. We will keep a sharp watch on him," he added.
The minister said the governor should have tried to find out what actually happened in Bhangar before making a statement. "He should have called the top officials to find out first."
"Is he aware of the activities of Rezzak Mollah (the CPM legislator who was assaulted) in Bhangar? If one wants to raise his voice against Rezzak, trouble is unavoidable. Being the constitutional head of the state, the governor should not comment against an elected government," Mukherjee said.
But, as minister Hakim said, the governor had not made any comment against the government. What he did was describe the events as "a kind of goondaism" ' which stood out because not only did the government not condemn the violence but some ministers dismissed the consequences as "drama".