Rajeev To Alapan: In War With NDA, Mamata Stands By Her Soldiers
Mamata Banerjee has proved, time and again, that her best officers are not dispensable in a political war.
In the journalistic circles of Kolkata, Alapan Bandyopadhyay is known as a man of little words. Not someone who will probably take your call all the time. Not the kind of bureaucrat many have “friendly” relations with. Definitely not someone you’d want to get on the wrong side of.
Not many years ago, if you were to ask these same journalists about Rajiv Kumar, former police commissioner of Kolkata, you’d probably hear a similar description.
That apart, Bandyopadhyay and Kumar have one more similarity – that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took on the central government to protect them.
The BJP-run Centre’s move to transfer Bandyopadhyay, Mamata Banerjee’s Chief Secretary till 31 May, to Delhi, is widely being perceived as a “revenge tactic”.
Many, on social media and otherwise, have called the BJP “sore losers” who are yet to make peace with the massive defeat they faced in the hands of Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the recently concluded West Bengal Assembly elections.
Bandyopadhyay, who was set to retire on 31 May was given a three-month extension earlier as he was heading the COVID-19 contingency committee for the state. After the Centre’s orders to transfer him, this extension was rescinded, Bandyopadhyay retired and was appointed “Chief Advisor” to the Chief Minister – all within a matter of hours.
As the score stands now, it seems like it is Mamata 1, Centre 0.
But is this rash decision making from a volatile Chief Minister? Mamata’s history with the Modi government shows that she’s taken more extreme steps to protect her officers in the past. And more often than not, it was a defence tactic when the Centre fired the first salvo.
In February 2019, the streets of Kolkata saw an unprecedented showdown between the Kolkata Police and officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The showdown ended with senior CBI officials being shoved by the collar into Kolkata Police vans. The CBI was at the residence of then police commissioner Rajeev Kumar to arrest and question him for alleged suppression of evidence in the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund scams. Investigations into both scams, at various stages, have thrown up names or shown links to senior Trinamool leaders. At the time, days before the Lok Sabha elections were to commence, involving Kumar, known to be close to Mamata, in the scam, was seen as a direct attack on the CM herself.
Within minutes, Mamata Banerjee announced that she was going to go on an indefinite dharna and set up base at the Y-channel in Central Kolkata, where she ate, slept and also conducted cabinet meetings for three days.
Since then Rajeev Kumar was removed from the post of commissioner and has thereafter been shunted to many positions in the state CID and other departments.
In the instances of both Alapan and Rajiv, it was clear that the Centre’s attack was not on the officers themselves but on Mamata Banerjee. And in both cases, she’s proved that her best soldiers are not dispensable in a political war.
The Alacrity Of Alapan Babu
In the bureaucratic circles, Alapan Bandyopadhyay is known as the kind of IAS officer who can get stuff done in any government. A 1987 batch officer, Bandyopadhyay made a name for himself as a hardworking man, available to his superiors 24x7.
Those who have worked with him also remark on how he found the balance between keeping his political masters happy while at the same time keeping enough distance to not seem “politically sold-out”.
Bandyopadhyay was known to be very close to former Left Front Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as well, holding many important offices during his time, including that of Kolkata Municipal Commissioner.
Testimony to Alapan’s political astuteness is a statement made by former TMC leader, and now BJP’s leader of opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari.
While lashing out at Mamata for missing the 28 May review meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Cyclone Yaas, Adhikari softened his tone for Bandyopadhyay, who also missed the meeting.
“Alapan Babu is a hard-working officer. I have worked with him when I was Transport Minister. He does as he is told”, said Adhikari.
Hours later, the Centre recalled Bandyopadhyay, ostensibly as a reaction to missing the meeting.
Bandyopadhyay had started out as a journalist with the famed Anandabazaar Patrika before he joined the civil services.
On 17 May, his brother, Anjan Bandyopadhyay, editor and anchor of a popular Bengali news channel, and one of the biggest names in the Bengali media circles, died of COVID-related complications.
At the time, Alapan was heading the state’s COVID management task force, and was soon after made in-charge of the task force handling cyclone Yaas. With the tussle with the Centre starting soon after, many in Kolkata have remarked that the strict Chief Secretary (now advisor) never got the time to grieve his brother’s death.
He has now been asked by the Centre to explain why he should not be booked under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) for missing the review meeting. As more back and forth seems to be in the offing, it looks like it will be sometime before he can.
Meanwhile, the Centre has also written to Mamata Banerjee, debunking her version of the events that transpired on 28 May. The West Bengal Governor has also tweeted that Banerjee, in a phone call before the meeting, expressed reservations on attending if the Leader of Opposition (Suvendu Adhikari) was present. While PM Modi was allegedly made to wait for 30 minutes, the political tussle that has ensued is clearly going to last for a much longer time.
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