With the BJP now a strong opposition in West Bengal with 75 MLAs and 18 MPs and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bete-noire and victor from Nandigram, Suvendu Adhikari as the Leader of the Opposition, the showdowns between the Chief Minister and the Centre like the one on Friday are expected to only intensify amidst constant provocations from both sides.
The provocation on Friday was the invite to Adhikari to be present in the PM’s review meeting with the Chief Minister on Cyclone Yaas, triggering Banerjee to raise her objection with the Centre on Thursday. She insisted that this is a “government-to-government” meeting with no need for the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) to be present and indicated she would skip the meeting if Adhikari was made a part of the same.
BJP was quick to put out the West Bengal Speaker’s letter on Friday morning that recognized Adhikari officially as the LoP, while the Centre cited that the LoP in Odisha had also been invited to the PM’s meeting with the Odisha CM as well, apart from LoP in the Lok Sabha and West Bengal, MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhary being invited to the Bengal review meet. Ultimately, the Odisha LoP could not make it to the meeting on health grounds while Choudhary excused himself saying he was in Delhi. Government sources said LoPs have been invited to earlier PM review meets during crisis visits as “collective energies of all elected representatives of people are pooled together in calamities.”
But a senior Trinamool Congress leader argued that Adhikari was invited specifically with the political intention to embarrass the CM, whom he defeated by a thin margin from Nandigram. “Was the LoP from the Congress present or invited in the review meeting chaired by the PM in Gujarat last week after Cyclone Tauktae? How can the LoP help in what is essentially a government relief effort? The CM has been monitoring the cyclone situation day-and-night and knows her responsibilities. She has to tour different parts of the cyclone-impacted state and did ultimately go to the PM’s meeting,” the senior TMC leader said.
Central government sources however said the PM had shown “far more grace” by not referring to the “unfortunate behavior” of the CM in the official press statement on the visit released by the Prime Minister’s Office. Modi was courteous to the CM during the few minutes she spent in the review meeting while handing him over a report on the cyclone’s impact and then left saying she had to visit Digha.
Adhikari was however not to miss out and launched a political attack on Mamata Banerjee, pointing out how other opposition-ruled CMs like Omar Abdullah, Pinarayi Vijayan, the late J Jayalalitha and Naveen Patnaik had attended the PM’s review meetings when their respective states were hit by natural calamities.
He also accused her of a bad track record of the mismanagement of Cyclone Amphan relief effort and slammed her “dictatorial nature and lack of respect for constitutional values.” The senior TMC leader quoted earlier said Adhikari’s statements after the meeting attacking Mamata Banerjee only prove the CMs point that he was attending the meeting for political reasons to take potshots and not for meaningful intervention. “One must remember that CM was present in PM’s review meet after Cyclone Amphan,” he said.
The PM has, meanwhile, announced Rs 500 crore for West Bengal and Jharkhand as relief which the Centre said will be released “on the basis of the damage” and visit of an Inter-Ministerial Team for further assessment will be the basis on which further assistance will be given. This may also generate a conflict in the days to come as the CM had after PM’s visit post Cyclone Amphan said the interim relief announced by PM then of Rs 1000 crore was also not enough. The BJP however is planning to keep a hawk eye on the utilization of the relief money sent by Centre to West Bengal for Cyclone Yaas, after making the “swindling of Amphan relief money” a big poll issue. Adhikari will continue to be the thorn in the CMs flesh for next 5 years.