Saturday, September 18, 2021

Centre needles Bandopadhyay, the hapless bureaucrat

The ugly confrontation between the Centre and Bengal government is not yet over. The Union  government had sent  a stinker to the former chief secretary and present chief advisor to Mamata Banerjee government, Alapana Bandopadhyay, asking to explain why he failed to attend the post-cyclone review meeting presided over by none other than the prime minister of the country.

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Usually explanations from top bureaucrats are sought by the State governments for which they are working. In this case, the Centre justifies issuing show-cause notice to Alapana Bandopadhyay by showing a clause in Disaster Management Act. The senior bureaucrat was asked to respond in three days. Here is a top bureaucrat caught in a political controversy between the Centre and the state on one hand and between two strong personalities in Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee on the other. Both are strong willed. They don’t forget or forgive.

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When one looks at the recent developments, particularly after May 2 when the votes in West Bengal were counted and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress registered a record-breaking win, the culture of respecting each other appears to have vanished.  Soon after the government was formed, two ministers of Mamata Cabinet have been arrested by the CBI in Narada tapes case. The case is not a new development and there is no need to arrest the ministers as they were already questioned by the investigative agencies. It smacked of pure and crude political vendetta, as Mamata put it ,because the BJP leadership could not digest the defeat in Bengal.

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In fact, the centre has to think about the sensitive federal sentiment and be careful about the message it sends to other states, especially those ruled by non-BJP parties, when it acts against any state government. The non-BJP governments in states are already at loggerheads with the Centre which is a dangerous phenomenon  that could influence the federal structure of the country.  The Centre appears to be reckless in this aspect when it was taking provocative actions like moving the chief secretary of the state without consulting either the official concerned or the chief minister. The fact that the chief secretary was given extension by the Centre only four days prior to the shifting orders speaks volumes about the intolerance on part of the central government.

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The Governor of West Bengal, a constant pain in Mamata Banerjee’s neck , said something which he could have avoided. He was with the prime minister along with opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari when Mamata and Bandopadhyay met Narendra Modi briefly. Their presence, which is unusual, must have upset Mamata who went ahead with her tour programme after taking PM’s permission. The chief secretary naturally followed the chief minister since they were scheduled to visit cyclone ravaged areas in interior Bengal.

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The Centre accused Mamata of behaving in an “ugly, disrespectful and arrogant manner” insulting prime minister, something that had never happened in the history of Independent India. Then Bandopadhyay was given a notice recalling him to centre and report in Delhi by Monday morning.

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Mamata Banerjee refused to relieve the chief secretary. She has reason not to relieve him. She requested the Centre to extend Bandopandhyay’s services due to the fight against the covid which should go on and the Centre was good enough to agree to her request and extended Bandopadhyay’s service by three months. Reminding that Modi’s government had agreed that the need is there for Bandopadhyay’s presence in West Bengal to help fight Covid and cyclone affects, Mamata said to the PM in a letter on Monday that she was not going to relieve her chief secretary. Meanwhile, Bandopadhyay had resigned and he was promptly appointed by Mamata as her chief advisor.

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Not willing to allow the matters to rest there, the Centre has pursued its agenda by issuing a show-cause notice to the top bureaucrat. The political battle is turning out to be interesting with turns and twists and the whole country is observing Mamata Banerjee giving a good fight to Narendra Modi. Is it warranted for Modi to make the tiff appear as though it is a battle of wits between him, the prime minister, and Mamata, a chief minister? It is for him to decide. What can the Centre do with an official who had resigned? For further turns, we have to wait, not for long.

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K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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