New Delhi: The Oxford Union Debating Society Wednesday postponed at the last moment a scheduled virtual address by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, drawing flak from Trinamool Congress leaders who claimed the event was put off due to political pressure.
Trinamool sources alleged that “tremendous pressure was put from the topmost levels on the orgainsers” to cancel the event.
The party sources said the debate was originally scheduled to be aired at 5 pm Wednesday, which the Oxford Union later rescheduled to 2:30 pm. However, in an email to Goutam Sanyal, Principal Secretary to West Bengal CM, at 2:14 pm, Beatrice Barr, president of the Oxford Union Debating Society, informed about their decision to postpone the event.
“I am emailing to send once again my sincerest apologies for the event being unable to go ahead as planned this morning. It is incredibly unfortunate: all of us from many countries were looking forward to it. Our audience in Oxford sent a great many questions, and we were all working hard to pull a number of elements together. However, nothing prevails over circumstances sometimes, it seems,” Barr said in her e-mail, which has been seen by ThePrint.
Barr also said she hoped the West Bengal CM will understand, and “might honour us with her esteemed presence at the earliest possible convenience to you”. “With your permission, I will pass your details onto my successor, to whom I hand over this Friday,” she said.
Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’ Brien had tweeted in the morning that Banerjee will address the debate. “Mamata Banerjee will address the Oxford Union debate today. She is the first Indian woman leader & an administrative head to address the forum. US Presidents, British PMs & legends Albert Einstein, Michael Jackson have spoken here.”
Mamata Banerjee will address the Oxford Union debate today. She is the first Indian woman leader & an administrative head to address the forum. US Presidents, British PMs & legends Albert Einstein, Michael Jackson have spoken here.
Watch 2.30 pm link >> https://t.co/KMFasnTnqt
— Derek O'Brien | ডেরেক ও'ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) December 2, 2020
Banerjee would have been the first Indian woman CM to have participated in the Oxford Union debate. The debating society, which was founded in 1893, has in the past seen participation of politicians of the likes of British PMs and US presidents among others.
Indian politicians who have participated in the debate in the past include Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Salman Khurshid, and BJP leader Baijayant Panda, among others.
Also read: Mamata gives big push to Hindi & Hindu, BJP calls CM ‘scared’, Trinamool says it’s ‘unity’
No political pressure, says Oxford Union
Aware that the West Bengal assembly election is due early next year and Banerjee will be caught up in the campaigning, Barr reiterated in her mail that the Union would be happy and proud to welcome her “whenever it may be convenient in her busy election schedule”.
The Oxford Union, in an email response to ThePrint, said the event has not been postponed due to any political pressure. The response also added to the confusion on whether the event was live or pre-recorded.
“The postponement of the event is not political whatsoever, or the result of any pressure. The event was a pre-recorded interview rather than a debate, and we hope to be able to conduct it at a later date, pending the Chief Minister’s availability,” the email said.
However, Trinamool Congress sources said the event was not pre-recorded and was to be aired live on Banerjee’s official Facebook page.
“It was to be aired on Banerjee’s Facebook page,” said a Trinamool source, who did not want to be quoted.
The source also said the schedule was finalised more than four months ago. “They (Oxford Union Debating Society) called her office this morning to change time from 5 pm to 2.30 pm. That too was agreed. Then they sent an email cancelling the programme just 30 minutes before the scheduled start time. Earlier, the Bengal CM’s proposed visits to China, Chicago, St. Stephen’s Delhi were cancelled at short notice. Who is blocking these programmes?”
Banerjee has been one of the harshest critics of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government and has, since 2014, walked out of several central government schemes including the Smart City project and flagship healthcare and insurance programme Ayushman Bharat.
The Trinamool sources told ThePrint that Banerjee, in her address, would have spoken on some of the pro-poor and social welfare schemes for girl students, women and farmers — such as Kanyashree and Krishak Bandhu. The address would have been followed by the chief minister answering questions submitted by the Oxford University students.
Also read: Focus on women voters — how BJP plans to dent Mamata’s support in West Bengal
This lady wants cheap popularity at any costs.
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