West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Centre are at loggerheads, again, following a row over the former’s decision to skip the Cyclone review meet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and the faceoff doesn’t seem to come to end as it intensifies further.
The latest, in the row of endless showdowns between the chief minister and the Centre, began on Friday with Banerjee’s decision to give the Cyclone Yaas review meet a miss. The chief minister, who was out for a survey of cyclone-hit areas, told media persons at Sagar Island in South 24-Parganas district, “I will not be a part of the review meeting called by PM Modi. It will take 45 minutes for me to reach Kalaikunda. I have prepared a preliminary report on the estimated loss due to Cyclone in Bengal. I will just hand over the report to PM Modi."
Her decision did not go down well with the BJP leaders and hitting out at Banerjee, Amit Malviya tweeted, “Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is at her petulant best. Nandigram defeat at the hands of Shri Suvendu Adhikari is still rankling her. Today, when PM reviews damage by Yaas, along with Hon’ble Governor, central ministers and leader of opposition in WB, she will skip for petty politics…"
Minutes From the Review Meet:
On Friday, Prime Minister Modi was on a visit to Odisha and West Bengal to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Yaas. After finishing his Odisha leg of the tour, when PM Modi arrived in Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was present on the premises, did not come and receive him at the airport.
According to sources, the prime minister and Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, along with Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Debashree Chaudhari, were made to wait for half an hour before Banerjee briefly showed up. The meeting was also attended by state BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, state Irrigation Minister Soumen Mahapatra and senior administrative officials.
The chief minister reportedly met PM Modi for 15 minutes and handed over a bunch of papers to the prime minister as an assessment of the damage caused by the cyclone before excusing herself and rushing out citing certain previously planned commitments. Further, sources said, despite the presentation being loaded on the screen, Banerjee did not allow the chief secretary or the home secretary to even do a presentation before the prime minister.
Was Suvendu Adhikari’s Presence the Reason?
BJP is now a strong opposition in West Bengal with 75 MLAs and 18 MPs and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bete-noire and victor from Nandigram, Suvendu Adhikari has been appointed the Leader of the Opposition. The provocation on Friday was the invite to Adhikari to be present in the PM’s review meeting with the Chief Minister on Cyclone Yaas, triggering Banerjee to raise her objection with the Centre on Thursday. She insisted that this is a “government-to-government” meeting with no need for the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) to be present and indicated she would skip the meeting if Adhikari was made a part of the same.
BJP was quick to put out the West Bengal Speaker’s letter on Friday morning that recognized Adhikari officially as the LoP, while the Centre cited that the LoP in Odisha had also been invited to the PM’s meeting with the Odisha CM as well, apart from LoP in the Lok Sabha and West Bengal, MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhary being invited to the Bengal review meet. Ultimately, the Odisha LoP could not make it to the meeting on health grounds while Choudhary excused himself saying he was in Delhi. Government sources said LoPs have been invited to earlier PM review meets during crisis visits as “collective energies of all elected representatives of people are pooled together in calamities.”
But a senior Trinamool Congress leader argued that Adhikari was invited specifically with the political intention to embarrass the CM, whom he defeated by a thin margin from Nandigram.
PM’s ‘Grace’, Mamata’s ‘Unfortunate Behaviour’:
Central government sources however said the PM had shown “far more grace” by not referring to the “unfortunate behavior” of the CM in the official press statement on the visit released by the Prime Minister’s Office. Modi was courteous to the CM during the few minutes she spent in the review meeting while handing him over a report on the cyclone’s impact and then left saying she had to visit Digha.
Senior BJP leaders launched sharp attack on her, with Union minister Amit Shah accusing her of putting “arrogance above public welfare" while another senior minister Rajnath Singh described her conduct as shocking and painful. BJP president JP Nadda accused her of “murder of constitutional ethos and the culture of cooperative federalism."
Adhikari’s Pot Shot:
Adhikari also took the opportunity to launch a political attack on Banerjee, pointing out how other opposition-ruled CMs like Omar Abdullah, Pinarayi Vijayan, the late J Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik had attended the PM’s review meetings when their respective states were hit by natural calamities. He also accused her of a bad track record of the mismanagement of Cyclone Amphan relief effort and slammed her “dictatorial nature and lack of respect for constitutional values.”
The senior TMC leader quoted earlier said Adhikari’s statements after the meeting attacking Banerjee only prove the CMs point that he was attending the meeting for political reasons to take potshots and not for meaningful intervention. “One must remember that CM was present in PM’s review meet after Cyclone Amphan,” he said.
Centre Summons Bengal Chief Secy:
Hours after Chief Secretary of Bengal Alapan Bandyopadhyay refused to participate in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over cyclone Yaas, the Centre issued orders for his central deputation. The order, issued by Ministry of Personnel, read, “The appointments committee of the cabinet has approved the placement of the services of Shri Alpan Bandyopadhyay (IAS WB:1987) with the Government of India, as per provisions of rule 6(1) of the Indian Administrative Service (cadre) rules, 1954 , with immediate effect." The order called for the state government to immediately relieve the chief secretary of his duties in the state. The Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) order asked Bandyopadhyay to report by 10 am on May 31.
Mamata Retaliates Amid Attack from All Sides:
Banerjee on Saturday hit out at the BJP-led Centre for pursuing “vendetta politics" and appealed to withdraw its order recalling Chief Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay and allow the senior bureaucrat to work for people amid the COVID-19 crisis. She also claimed that Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah were trying to create problems for her government at every step as they were yet to come to terms with BJP’s defeat in the assembly elections.
Banerjee further stated that she was ready to touch Modi’s feet if told to do for the sake of West Bengal’s growth and development. “Because you (Modi and Shah) cannot digest BJP’s defeat in (Bengal), you have started creating problems for us from Day one. What is the fault of the chief secretary? “Recalling the chief secretary amid the COVID crisis goes on to show that the Centre was indulging in political vendetta," she asserted.
Talking about the criticism she faced for skipping the review meeting with Modi on cyclone devastation, Banerjee said, “It was supposed to be held between the PM and the CM. Why were BJP leaders called to the session?" She also claimed that opposition leaders were not invited to similar review meetings held in Gujarat and Odisha, the two states that also faced cyclone fury over the past few days.
Following Banerjee’s allegations, Adhikari on Saturday alleged that the chief minister and the chief secretary have insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi by not attending a meeting chaired by him to discuss the ravages caused by Cyclone Yaas. “I have no word to criticise the way the West Bengal chief minister and the chief secretary insulted the prime minister," said Adhikari.
Claiming that Banerjee questioned his presence in the meeting held at Kalaikunda air base in Paschim Medinipur district on Friday, Adhikari said that he was invited to it as the leader of opposition in the state assembly and MLA of cyclone-affected Nandigram. “She is trying to show her arrogance and petty politics by her stance," he said.
“I request Mamata to follow the Constitution. I urge you, as an LoP, you need to respect the PMO," he said. Further, he alleged that several officers have called him and said that the chief minister doesn’t let them follow the protocol. “Why are you making it a Bengali vs others even now. You should know the IPS snd IAS officers have a certain protocol to follow," he said."
“You may not like me but you should remember I am the LoP and that I have defeated you in Nandigram yet you are sitting on CM chair," Adhikari said.
‘May I Talk? Urgent’
In a tweet on Tuesday, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar said Mamata Banerjee had contacted him on the night of May 27 and hinted at the boycott of the Prime Minister. “Constrained by false narrative to put record straight: On May 27 at 2316 hrs CM @MamataOfficial messaged “may i talk? urgent”. Thereafter on phone indicated boycott by her & officials of PM Review Meet #CycloneYaas if LOP @SuvenduWB attends it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Alpan Bandyopadhyay on Monday ‘retired’ from the post of Chief Secretary and was made advisor to Mamata Banerjee in the West Bengal government.