Kolkata: The centre-state conflict between the Modi government and Mamata Banerjee resurfaced Friday as the West Bengal chief minister, unhappy with the presence of bete noire MLA Suvendu Adhikari, skipped a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The meeting had been scheduled to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Yaas in the state. Banerjee excused herself from the meeting by saying she had not been “informed” in time, and that she had other scheduled engagements.
She did, however, meet Modi separately and handed over a report, demanding a Rs 20,000 crore relief package for the development of Digha and Sundarbans (delta) areas, which bore the brunt of the cyclone’s effect in the state.
Senior Trinamool Congress leaders told ThePrint that the chief minister had initially agreed to join the meeting, but she was offended with the Modi government’s decision to include “BJP politician Suvendu Adhikari”. Once a close aide of Banerjee’s, Adhikari defeated her in the Nandigram constituency in the recently-concluded assembly elections. He is now the leader of opposition in the Bengal assembly.
Trinamool leaders said the Adhikari’s presence in the meeting was in “bad taste” and that it was “unprecedented” for an opposition MLA to be present in a state review meeting, between the CM and the prime minister.
On its part, the BJP blamed Banerjee’s government for breaking protocol, and accused the chief minister of “violation of propriety” as neither she, nor Chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay were present at the Kalaikunda air base to receive the PM Modi Friday. Reacting to Banerjee’s decision to skip the meeting, the BJP said, “petty politics” was being played over a national calamity.
Mamata does aerial survey, as Modi waits
Modi, flanked by Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, union minister Debasree Chaudhuri and BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari waited at the meeting venue for around 30 minutes, as the state government did not send any representative to the meeting. No civil servant was present either.
Meanwhile, Banerjee, while addressing a cyclone review meeting at Digha in East Midnapore, around 127 km from Kalaikunda, said she had not been “informed” about the meeting in an appropriate manner.
“I did not know about it. I was doing an aerial survey and holding meetings across affected districts like South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore. I still went to Kalaikunda as the prime minister wanted to meet me. I told him that I came from far, just to meet you,” said Banerjee during a televised review meeting in East Midnapore Friday.
“My chief secretary and I met him and handed over the damage report. With his permission, I left for my review meeting at Digha. We have sought a financial package of Rs 20,000 crore for the development of Digha and Sundarban areas, that have been ravaged by the cyclone.
“We would not probably get anything, but we have fulfilled our responsibility. We have told the PM to do what he thinks right,” added the chief minister.
Trinamool vs BJP: What they said
Trinamool Congress MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy called the decision of the Modi government to include Suvendu Adhikari “unprecedented”.
“There has been no precedent ever of including a local opposition politician in a review meeting that should only have the prime minister, the chief minister and the relevant bureaucrats. The chief minister should at least have received a detailed communication from the PMO, mentioning who all will be present at the meeting,” he said.
“The PM never holds all-party meetings in a state. This is subject to the chief minister’s approval. And these kinds of meetings cannot be an all-party meeting. Under what pretext did they call Suvendu Adhikari to the meeting?” Roy said.
The MP claimed that Adhikari’s presence at the meeting was with the intention to upset the chief minister.
“This was done intentionally to irritate Mamata Banerjee, who is working hard to handle the post-cyclone situation. This was in bad taste. They politicise everything, and that includes the natural calamity too,” he added.
BJP leaders, meanwhile, termed the chief minister’s behaviour as an indulgence in “petty politics”.
“Mamata Banerjee always does that. She is a violator of federal structure. She skipped most meetings with the PM, and if she attends any, she creates controversy right after the meeting. The last time, she attended the PM’s meeting with the DMs, she immediately after started making political comments. The meeting was for the DMs of Covid-affected districts to brief the PM. She did not allow the DMs to speak,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
He added that “her government has violated propriety by not receiving the PM. Her chief secretary was also not present there”.
Governor Dhankhar called the incident a “confrontation” in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Suvendu Adhikari, in a series of tweets, called it a “dark day” that revealed her (Mamata Banerjee’s) “dictatorial” nature. He also posted images which showed the “PM review flood situation taking non-NDA persons with him”.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)