The Centre and the West Bengal government must negotiate their relations in good faith
The conflicting versions of the BJP and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee regarding a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday to review the situation after Cyclone Yaas cannot be glossed over as miscommunication. BJP leaders, including Union Ministers, went to great lengths to show Ms. Banerjee in a bad light over the meeting. They said she made the PM wait for 30 minutes at Kalaikunda in Paschim Medinipur district in south Bengal; and once she arrived, she handed over certain papers and left without attending the meeting. Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar accused the CM publicly of being confrontational. In an unprecedented act, the Centre unilaterally placed the West Bengal Chief Secretary under central deputation. Considering the fact that no concurrence of the official in question or the State government was sought, this can be seen only as a vindictive move. Ms. Banerjee has said that she had sought the PM’s permission before going about her schedule to oversee relief operations in other parts of the State. While offering to even touch the PM’s feet if that was required to secure the support of the Centre for the State’s welfare, she has questioned the BJP version and pleaded that the CS be allowed to stay in the post. Ms. Banerjee said she was delayed for the meeting with the PM only because of air traffic regulations for the landing of the PM’s aircraft.
That there is such acrimony between the State and the Centre at a time when both must be working hand in hand is extremely disheartening for the people of West Bengal. But there can be no equal apportioning of blame in this. By calling Mr. Dhankhar and Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari to the meeting, the Centre had already betrayed its plans to belittle the CM, who has won a resounding third term recently by trouncing the BJP. In Odisha on the same day, and in Gujarat earlier, the PM reviewed the situation with the CMs, and not Opposition leaders. It is apparent that the BJP has not been able to stomach the popular verdict in Bengal. The defeat could have been an occasion for the BJP to introspect and mend its strategy for West Bengal. Far from it, the Centre unleashed the CBI against the newly elected Trinamool Congress Ministers. Mr. Adhikari, the PM’s interlocutor on Friday, remains untouched by the CBI though he is an accused in the same case. Now, by dragging a senior IAS officer who has just been cleared for a three month extension after retirement on May 31, into a nasty political tussle, the Centre has crossed yet another red line. The BJP must wake up to the tradition of Centre and States constantly negotiating their relations in good faith. It must also get used to the reality of losing elections in a democracy.