‘Here we go again’ was the thought in everyone’s mind as another face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee erupted with charges of keeping the other waiting for a Cyclone Yaas meeting in West Bengal.
Mamata didn’t quite sit in the meeting, miffed with the presence of the Leader of Opposition Suvendhu Adhikari, the former confidant who eventually beat her from Nandigram. BJP alleged she kept the PM and Governor waiting, came and gave some papers and left.
Banerjee says she was kept waiting and since it anyways wasn’t a PM-CM meeting with others present, she took their permission and left for other engagements to take stock of the cyclone aftermath. Be that as it may, this isn’t the first time something like this transpired in Bengal.
The last two years have been a tale of confrontation. In the run-up to elections especially, Mamata skipped many PM-CM Covid virtual meetings and then waded into a PM-DM meeting later complaining of not being allowed to speak.
At first thought, it could be said this is how Mamata is and her personality traits reflect on this standoff, even as Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik not only greets the PM on arrival but also sits in the meeting and declines any financial help needed at this stage keeping the larger national picture in mind. Also, the acrimony over recent Bengal elections is spilling over.
But is it that simple?
Mamata is not the only CM on a warpath against the PM and his office. There seems to be a method to the madness.
In recent months, there has been a peculiar behaviour exhibited by several CMs.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi CM, was recently called out for live broadcasting his comments from the meeting with the PM and other CMs on Covid against protocol and without permission. Never before had something like this happened.
Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren then made a rather crude and disparaging remark on Twitter after a call by the PM to talk about Covid. Again, a behaviour otherwise unwitnessed even by opposition CMs who may criticise the PM on social media. He was widely criticised for bringing down the ‘dignity of the relationship with the PM and his office.’
Opposition chief ministers are with increasingly outrageous actions and behaviour attacking the PMO primarily because the PM is Modi. What is unique is that it is now outside the realm of politics and elections and more in the domain of the Centre-State relationship and respect accorded to the PM and his office despite political differences. Federalism is a two-way street. But it seems opposition parties have decided they will bring down some of the dignity attached to their interactions with PMO to send two messages.
Firstly, bring down the respect level of Narendra Modi himself by projecting that he doesn’t command as much reverence as a PM and they as CMs will break even protocol to hurt that image.
Secondly, establish themselves as crusaders against a PM and his party they are wholly opposed to. This helps in cementing themselves as greater options against the BJP in the national scheme.
Narendra Modi’s towering personality in Indian politics is the opposition’s biggest headache. He has the image of a doer, someone working tirelessly 24×7 for the country and is personally unimpeachable. As Rahul Gandhi once said, ‘I will tear him (PM Modi) apart.’ More recently, he also said that ‘PM’s image is dead.’
Attacking the Modi ‘image’ is thus emerging as a single point attack for the opposition. There is currently no one who is a ready contender to take him on in 2024. BJP alleges this was the main focus of the alleged toolkit by the Congress research department.
‘Standing up to Modi’ with confrontations during meetings or post calls, even if it comes across as destroying the PM-CM relationship and childish, is perhaps one way the opposition CMS is hoping to achieve that goal.