Kolkata: In what might be called a balancing act, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee Saturday met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a one-on-one conversation at Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, but then proceeded to continue her protest against CAA in the middle of the state capital.
The CM dubbed her 13-minute meet with the PM as a “constitutional responsibility” and “courtesy”, but that didn’t stop her from seeking a withdrawal of the contentious law which was notified by Modi’s government late Friday, during the meeting.
The TMC defined the meeting as nothing but a “government to government” affair.
Banerjee’s meeting with the PM came a day after she refused to attend a Congress-led meeting of opposition parties over CAA and NRC. The TMC chief has drawn flak from the opposition for boycotting the scheduled 13 January meet in Delhi convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Later, at a function to inaugurate the renovated currency building in Kolkata, PM Modi, who is in Kolkata on a two-day trip to attend the sesquicentenary of Kolkata Port Trust, chose to invoke Bengali icons.
“Bengal has given the country many Chandras (moons) like Subhash Chandra (Netaji), Bankim Chandra (author), Jagadish Chandra (scientist) , Sharat Chandra (author) and so on. Bengal is always known for its culture… Politics is unstable, but culture is stable. We need to uphold our culture,” he said.
The PM added that he wanted to set up a museum called “Biplabi Bharat” in Kolkata that will have place for Bengali revolutionaries like Netaji, Aurobindo Ghosh, among others.
His statement came even as he faced protests across the city and near his programme venue.
Both shared the stage at the Kolkata Port Trust Event later in the evening.
‘Government to government’ affair
In a statement released on social media, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC said there was nothing to read politically into the meeting as it was purely a “government to government” affair.
Lets get this straight. Today’s meeting is govt-to-govt. And Trinamool don’t need certificates from anyone. We started this movement & now it is a people’s movement. How many processions have U walked in? How many protests have U led ? Stop giving advice sitting on a sofa : Derek
— All India Trinamool Congress (@AITCofficial) January 11, 2020
Banerjee also clarified after the Raj Bhavan meet that she has always made it a point to welcome and meet the president and prime minister when they are in Kolkata.
“It is my constitutional duty to meet the PM. I sent my minister Firhad Hakim to receive the PM at the airport. I raised the issues of the financial dues of my state. We are yet to get Rs 28,000 crore dues and also the funds for cyclone Bulbul.
“Putting everything together, we are yet to get Rs 38,000 crore from the Centre. He assured me that he would look into this,” said Banerjee, who was seen entering the meeting with papers and folders.
Banerjee added that she had voiced her “disapproval” of CAA, the proposed NRC and NPR to the PM.
“I don’t know if it was right on my part to say to our guest, but I said that we were all against the new Act and NRC. I have requested him to reconsider and withdraw the Act.
“He told me that he was here to attend some programmes and he might talk about this once he goes back to Delhi,” the chief minister added.
The contentious new law CAA, which grants citizenship to six non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, has provoked nationwide protests. Banerjee has been a leading force in these protests, particularly in West Bengal.
Immediately after the meet, Mamata Banerjee headed straight to the TMC’s agitation stage in the state capital — a kilometer away from Raj Bhavan.
On Friday, she had asked her party’s student wing to start an indefinite agitation near Esplanade in central Kolkata. The agitation started Saturday.
She announced from the stage that her movement against CAA and NRC will go on. Flanked by the students of Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad, she did a “strike through” on a dummy copy of the gazette notification issued by the central government on CAA.
She also raised slogans with the students. “We will not accept this notification, withdraw it,” she said, adding that the notifications would only remain on paper and could never be implemented.
Banerjee also took a dig at Congress and Left. Without taking any name, the CM said some political parties are trying to “gain political mileage of our movement”.
“All these parties are acting and working as BJP’s agents. Making a protest violent means that they want to destroy the movement. Do not fall prey to such politics. We are doing it for the people.”
Congress and Left strategise, PMO says no to Malda meet
Even as Banerjee maintained a balance between her responsibility as the CM and as an opposition leader, the CPM and Congress parties organised several protests across the city ahead of the PM’s visit.
People were mobilised to show black flags to PM Modi and effigies of his posters with inscriptions of “Fascist Modi” were taken to rallies by the students.
Modi, however, took a chopper to a location near Raj Bhavan from the Kolkata airport to avoid protests and road blockades.
With the CAA coming into force, the state unit of the BJP tried to get Modi to address a public meeting in Malda, a district that shares porous border with Bangladesh. However, it was not cleared by the Prime Minister’s Office, a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.