Kolkata: It wasn’t the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) but the West Bengal Police, which insisted that Narendra Modi take a helicopter to travel to Raj Bhavan from the Kolkata airport as they were “jittery and nervous” about dealing with the anti-CAA protests planned along the 18-km route, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the central security agencies said the Bengal Police also advised them to take the water route via the Hooghly to visit the Ramakrishna Mission in Belur.
Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee had said Modi took the air and water routes to reach his destinations and hinted that he avoided travelling by road fearing the anti-CAA protests.
A source from a central security agency told ThePrint the PMO repeatedly insisted that Modi travel to his destinations during his visit to Kolkata on 11 January by road, but the request was turned down by the state police.
West Bengal Police were “jittery and nervous” about handling the protests, and fearing an attack on the PM’s convoy, they asked the security agencies to arrange for a chopper for the PM, added the source.
A source in the Ministry of Home Affairs told ThePrint the ministry had given a go-ahead to the PMO’s proposal of taking Modi via road to his destinations in Kolkata, but the West Bengal Police insisted on the air and water routes.
ThePrint reached the PMO for a comment but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
The state police has, however, said the final decision was taken by the security agencies and that they only “briefed them about the situation”.
“The PM’s security is always SPG’s (Special Protection Group) responsibility. They decide on the route, not us. We can only brief them about the situation and recommend. Had they asked for a road route, we would have arranged. The final call is always taken by them,” a senior Bengal police officer told ThePrint.
Several Left, TMC and Congress-backed outfits had staged protests during Modi’s visit against his government’s decision to bring in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The PM’s convoy was even shown black flags outside the Netaji Indoor Stadium located next to Eden Gardens.
7 protests planned along the 18-km route
According to a report sent to the MHA by the security agencies, there were seven protests and rallies planned along the 18-km stretch between the airport and the helipad near the Kolkata Maidan. This helipad was close to Raj Bhavan.
The report also stated that at least eight outfits led by state minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury’s Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind had planned protests near Kaikhali crossing, close to the airport. Chowdhury is the Minister of State with independent charge for Mass Education Extension and Library Services.
‘Mamata played on both sides’
A senior diplomat in the Bengal government said the administration initially requested the PMO to postpone Modi’s visit to Kolkata in light of the protests. But later, the government directed its police to ensure a hassle-free passage for the PM, he added.
A senior government official, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint the West Bengal administration did not want to be seen as a state that has no control over its law and order issues.
“Time and again, the opposition parties have tried to portray Bengal as a state with multiple law and order issues. That is why, we tried to ensure a hassle-free route for him (Modi). This could be done only when the PM used air and water routes,” he said.
However, a TMC leader, who didn’t want to be named, said Mamata played on both sides.
“As CM, she ensured that there was no law and order problem during the PM’s visit…and we started the sit-in dharna near Raj Bhavan just a day before the PM arrived. So, it establishes our point against the Citizenship Amendment Act (too),” he said.
On protests against Mamata for meeting Modi, the leader said it’s her “constitutional responsibility”.
“Didi (as Mamata is fondly called in Bengal) is one of the sharpest politicians. Didi, as a politician, has been at the forefront in initiating the protests…She met the PM and expressed her disapproval for the CAA, which is what a good administrator does. Her work should be praised by the opposition and not questioned,” he added.
‘Bengal chief minister has two faces’
The Bengal BJP, meanwhile, attacked Mamata, saying she has two faces.
Party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya told ThePrint that it was Mamata Banerjee’s office that bargained hard with them for a “15-minute appointment” with the PM.
“We have been saying this for a long time that the Bengal chief minister has two faces. We will someday release a video to show how she behaves in front of the PM and what she says before the people,” he said.
Vijayvargiya also said that protests don’t matter to the PM and he need not “have to escape such protests by taking air and water routes”.
“Modiji without any arrangement landed in Pakistan. Will the same person get scared of these protests? Is it believable? Sher toh sher hote hain, aise billi-o se nahi darte hain woh. (Tigers are not scared of cats),” he added.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.