Caught in open war with CM Mann, Governor Purohit no stranger to row: political flip-flops to run-ins with govts

The 83-year-old Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit has been engaged in a bitter conflict with Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, even warning Mann that he could recommend President’s rule in the state and launch criminal proceedings if his queries were not answered by the CM.

Purohit has been known for courting various controversies, with his face-off with the Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) dispensation marking the latest row in his long, eventful innings in public life.

A former Maharashtra minister and MP, Purohit launched his political career from Nagpur in the Vidarbha region as a Congress member. He was elected on the Congress ticket from the Nagpur East Assembly constituency in 1978 and from the Nagpur South seat in 1980. He was inducted into the then Congress government as the Minister of State for Urban Development and Slums Improvement Trust and Housing in 1982.

Purohit contested from the Nagpur Lok Sabha seat as a Congress candidate in the 1984 and 1989 elections, winning it both times.

In 1979, Purohit also got the ownership of the English daily Hitavada from the Servants of Indian Society. The first English daily brought out from Central India, Hitavada was launched by the freedom fighter Gopal Krishna Gokhale in 1911.

As the BJP’s Ramjanmabhoomi movement for the cause of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya gained momentum in the late 1980s, Purohit decided to switch to the saffron party. He contested the 1991 Lok Sabha election from Nagpur on the BJP ticket but lost to the Congress candidate Datta Meghe. In the 1996 parliamentary election, however, Purohit won the Nagpur seat as a BJP nominee.

However, Purohit subsequently quit the BJP following his differences with the state party leadership. He returned to the Congress and contested the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the Ramtek constituency neighbouring Nagpur, but lost.

Purohit then decided to chart a separate course and launched his own outfit, Vidarbha Rajya Party, in 2003. Seeking to champion the cause of the Vidarbha region’s development, he contested the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Nagpur as his party’s face, but failed to get public support and lost the poll.

After a hiatus, Purohit rejoined the BJP to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha poll on its ticket from Nagpur, but he lost to the Congress’s Vilas Muttemwar. Observers say that his frequent jumps from the Congress to the BJP and vice versa dented his political image and credibility in the Vidarbha region.

In August 2016, the BJP-ruled Centre appointed Purohit as the Assam Governor. In 2017, he was named the Tamil Nadu Governor. The Centre sent him to the Punjab Raj Bhavan in August 2021.

In April 2018, during his stint as the Tamil Nadu Governor, Purohit sparked a controversy as he patted the cheek of a woman journalist at a press conference. His act set off a public outrage, with media persons seeking an unconditional apology from him. He apologised while claiming that the woman journalist was like his granddaughter and that he was “appreciating” her question.

Purohit’s stand against freeing seven Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts in 2019 also led to a row with the then Edappadi K Palaniswami-led AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, which had recommended the convicts’ release.

After moving out of Tamil Nadu in 2021, Purohit had once remarked, “I was Tamil Nadu Governor for four years. It was very bad there. In the state, Vice-Chancellor post was sold for Rs 40-50 crore.”

Purohit’s relationship with the Mann government, which took the helm in March 2022, has always remained strained. It reached a flashpoint last Friday, when the Governor, in a hard-hitting letter, warned the CM of imposition of President’s rule and lodging of a criminal case, stating that he was yet to receive replies to his previous letters.

On Saturday, Mann hit back at Purohit for “threatening” to recommend President’s Rule in the state, questioning how he “dared” to write such a letter. Asserting that he will “not compromise” and put “Punjab’s honour at stake”, the CM charged that the Governor’s letters reeked of “hunger for power”.

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