Modi-Mamata Feud: Why TMC, BJP Are at Loggerheads Post Elections
It’s time for Episode Two of the post-poll drama that’s being staged in West Bengal.
It's time for Episode Two of the post-poll drama that's being staged in West Bengal.
How the Modi-Mamata Feud Began
The first episode saw the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) swooping down on four senior Trinamool Congress members in the five-year-old Narada sting operation case.
Two of the four accused were newly sworn-in ministers.
While the second surge of COVID raged, the spotlight in Bengal shifted from Presidency Jail, to SSKM Hospital, and then house arrest, as the legalities were being sorted.
For the moment, it's curtains down on this act with the Calcutta High Court granting bail to all four on Friday, 28 May. Irate voices had shrieked political vendetta.
Barely had the chorus died down, theatrics have once again gripped the state. This time it is the puzzling order from the Centre to recall the state's seniormost administrative officer.
The state's Chief Secretary Alapan Bandhopadhyay was due to retire on Monday, 31 May 2021. One of the first things Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did after embarking on her third term was to write to the Centre seeking a three-month extension for her Chief Secretary who was closely monitoring the COVID management in the state. The extension was granted on 24 May.
Four days later, an undersecretary to the Government of India sent a letter requesting the state government “to relieve the officer with immediate effect and direct him to report to the Department of Personnel and Training, North block, New Delhi by 10 am on 31 May 2021.”
No reason has been given for this unilateral order.
What Provoked the Recall?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are on the warpath once again.
This time, it is over a meeting called by the Prime Minister to assess the impact of Cyclone Yaas in Bengal. Instead of joining the meeting, Banerjee preferred to leave after a short interaction at Kalaikunda airbase in Bengal, where Modi's flight landed after an aerial survey of cyclone damage in the state and in Odisha.
Banerjee handed the Prime Minister a report and left for Digha, one of the areas ravaged by the cyclone where an earlier meeting had been fixed by her.
This was the first in-person meeting between Modi and Mamata since the bitter battle for Bengal.
Cyclone Yaas has now receded, leaving in its wake devastation in a few districts of Bengal, and also kick-starting a political storm.
Allegations and Counter-Allegations
The Centre claims that the Chief Minister kept the Prime Minister and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar waiting for half an hour.
In a press conference held on Saturday, 29 May, Banerjee denied the charge.
“We were made to wait for 20 minutes and were told that the PM’s helicopter will land there, so we waited patiently. By the time we reached the place where the meeting was to be held, we found that the PM had already arrived and the meeting was underway.”West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
Banerjee also claimed that it was meant to be a PM-CM meeting and she had not expected the Governor and the leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari to be present. Adhikari, who had left the TMC to join the BJP defeated Banerjee with a slim margin in Nandigram.
While the Centre accuses the Chief Minister of being "callous, arrogant, and unmindful of the welfare of the people of her state", the Chief Minister says, "I was insulted, not the PM. The Centre is trying to defame me. I said with your kind permission may we leave. Then we left for Digha. The BJP can't digest defeat.”
At a press conference held on Saturday, the Chief Minister requested the Prime Minister with folded hands to withdraw the letter transferring her chief secretary and to halt the political vendetta.
The officer who accompanied the Chief Minister, now finds himself in the eye of a storm. Granted a three-month extension at the request of the Chief Minister, he now finds himself recalled to the Centre.
Is the Centre merely targeting someone who is perceived to be close to the Chief Minister? Someone for whom she had personally sought a three-month extension?
Or is the Chief Secretary at fault for leaving with the Chief Minister? If he has breached protocol by not staying back for the Prime Minister’s meeting why isn’t it being stated clearly?
Bureaucrats in Bengal are up in arms at this turn of events.
“This Is an absurdly politically vindictive transfer on the last day of service. The Centre cannot force IAS officers to join a posting in Delhi. They can threaten punitive steps but neither the Central Administrative Tribunal nor the court would agree in this case. There are steps to be followed. You have to advertise a vacancy, call for options, the officer then gives his option to go, state then recommends his option, officer’s name features in the Central eligibility panel, the posting offered matches his scale and grade, and finally the state has to release him. Till this is not done, it is not legal and procedurally correct.”Jawhar Sircar, Retired Secretary, Government of India
Is This Just Another Knee-Jerk Reaction From the Centre?
During the election campaign in Bengal when BJP National President JP Nadda's convoy was attacked, three IPS officers had been singled out and transferred to Delhi.
Months later, they are still very much in Bengal as the state government wrote saying their services could not be spared.
The Centre has chosen to remain silent.
In this instance, the entire controversy could have been avoided. A seething Prime Minister, who made the effort to conduct a meeting in Bengal to discuss cyclone relief, not ‘receiving’ the respect his office deserved, a Chief Minister now saying she could “even touch his feet for the people of Bengal”.
In the interests of the state, would it have been such a challenge to have attended the meeting with Modi and altered her previous plans, to proceed to Digha to supervise relief work, by a few minutes?
With the Mamata-Modi relationship getting more and more acrimonious by the day and the two constantly at loggerheads, co-operative federalism is a distant dream for Bengal.
In the neighbouring Odisha, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, also from an Opposition party, fully understands that if a state has to progress, it must work in tandem with the Centre.
While TMC supporters would like to believe that ‘hell hath no fury like a BJP scorned’, Didi too should shed her petulance and fine-tune her brand of politics; she should respect her overwhelming mandate and show the maturity of a third-time Chief Minister.
Only then can Bengal see a better tomorrow. And not just episodes of absurd drama.
(The author is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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