Kolkata: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting to assess the impact of Cyclone Yaas in the state appeared like a ‘BJP team’ meet, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Saturday.
Her remarks came a day after several Union ministers and BJP leaders slammed the West Bengal chief minister for making PM Modi wait during the meeting and then leaving minutes after giving him a report on the impact of the damage caused by the cyclone.
Banerjee also requested PM Modi to withdraw the central government’s order to recall state Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay and alleged that the Centre is not letting the state government work.
Banerjee said the meeting, where Governor Jagdeed Dhankhar, minister Debasree Choudhury and Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari were present, “looked like a big BJP team led by the PM and I was alone.”
She added that she agreed to attend the review meeting, but the programme was later revised to include BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari. “They had shown some empty chairs. It is a fact that I didn’t sit there, because there was no need to sit. The meeting was supposed to happen between the PM and CM, but it turned out to be one with the Governor, central minister, and BJP MLA, led by the PM. It was a big BJP team and I was alone,” she said during a press conference at Nabanna, the state secretariat.
“I was doing an aerial survey of interior places. But, I still reached Kalaikunda. Before my chopper took off, we were asked to wait for 20 minutes as the PM’s chopper was airborne then. We waited on the road … I can understand the PM’s security issues and am not complaining. When we landed, the PM was already there. Vivek Sahai, director, CM security, asked for a few minutes’ time from SPG for a one-on-one PM-CM meeting, but they said we have to wait for an hour,” the chief minister added.
‘Is it because I got people’s mandate?’
Reacting sharply to the central government’s decision to recall the chief secretary, Banerjee said, “If you (PM) want me to touch your feet and agree to help Bengal, I will do that in the interest of Bengal. But do not humiliate me the way you always do. You did not call the leader of Opposition when you held meetings in Gujarat or Odisha, you always engineer a confrontation-type situation in Bengal? Why? Is it because I got people’s mandate and you did not?.”
“What was my chief secretary’s fault? He has been accompanying me since morning. You are not only disturbing me but my secretariat. I will request you to withdraw his transfer order,” a visibly angry chief minister said with folded hands.
Banerjee said if needed, she will take legal recourse to retain her chief secretary.
What happened at Kalaikunda?
A senior home ministry official told ThePrint that Banerjee chose to arrive at the meeting after PM Modi because she didn’t want to welcome him at the airport.
PM Modi, the official said, landed in Kalaikunda in Paschim Medinipur district at 2 pm. The chief minister, however, landed at around 2.15 pm, at the time of the meeting.
The MHA official said Alapan Bandyopadhyay spoke to PMO officials seeking a one-on-one meeting between the PM and CM. However, the PMO said the meeting would start as scheduled. Alapan then spoke to the Governor requesting him to mediate, but he refused.
During this time, the PM, Governor, and Suvendu Adhikari waited for the CM to join the meeting. She entered the meeting room, handed over the reports to the PM, and left. The review meeting was officially cancelled as the state government did not join, said the MHA official.
What the CM said
Banerjee, however, said she gave a miss to the scheduled meeting because she had to attend a review meeting at Digha.
“I along with my chief secretary went there. I did not feel the need to sit there, because I spoke to the PM, as we respect his chair. Since he wanted to meet, I had to fly down to Kalaikunda from Sagar (an island in south 24 Parganas). I told him that I had to hold a meeting in Digha and the weather was not good for flying, so I had to leave. I left taking his permission,” the chief minister said at Nabanna.
She also said the Modi government has been “humiliating” her ever since she took oath three weeks ago.
“Minutes after I took the oath, the Governor said negative things about me. In 24 hours of taking the oath, MHA sent central teams [to the state] … What is wrong with them? Why do they always do this with Bengal? They keep calling us in meetings. My bureaucrats will work for the Centre or for the state? They keep calling meetings and then they insult or humiliate me,” she said.
Commenting on viral images of empty chairs at the review meeting being circulated, the CM said, “PMO fed some reporters with these misleading pictures. Where are the photos of the CM talking to the PM in the room? They did it intentionally to create more problems for the Bengal government. They always want to humiliate me nationally. The central ministers parroted the same lines and launched a maligning campaign against me.”
Minutes after the CM’s address at Nabanna, Suvendu Adhikari said that the chief minister was “lying’.
“The chief minister rescheduled her programmes to join the PM’s meeting, but she refused to join later when she saw my name on the list. I requested the PMO for a short appointment with the PM, as I wanted to submit our party’s report. That is why I was asked to join the meeting,” said Adhikari.
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.