AMIDST the war of words between the Trinamool Congress and BJP over the handling of coronavirus in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked the Centre at the video-conference meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, accusing it of playing politics and unilateral decisions.
She took on the PM, Home Minister Amit Shah as well as Central government officials, questioning their actions in the midst of a pandemic. She was among the CMs who opposed the Centre’s plan to dilute the lockdown and start the train service.
Sources familiar with the proceedings at the meeting said Banerjee accused New Delhi of taking decisions without consulting states. “She said that the Centre sends advisories and, before they reach the state, these are leaked to the BJP unit and media,” a source said. She also accused Central officials of holding video-conferences with state officials without keeping her government in the loop. “Don’t do politics, Amit Shah saheb,” she said.
Unlike on earlier occasions, Banerjee’s attack was also directed at Modi, as much as the others.
A source present at the meeting said Banerjee made her anger evident right from the start, taking off by saying, “You are sending advisories one after another, without even consulting anyone. Amit Shah could have spoken on the phone, but instead he sent me a letter.”
While Bengal was being targeted, the Centre was overlooking decisions of BJP-ruled governments, including on labour laws, Banerjee said, specifically mentioning Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.
Asserting that West Bengal was doing its best to combat the virus, the CM said “surrounded by international borders and other bigger states”, the state had “too many challenges to deal with”.
According to top sources in the state government, Banerjee said, “When we are cooperating with you, why are you attacking us? Why is it always Bengal?… The Centre is working according to a script… Nobody ever asks our opinion. Don’t bulldoze the federal structure… All states should be given equal importance and we should work together as Team India.”
Sources said that Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb took on Banerjee for her remarks. When his turn came, Deb said the debate on “bigger and smaller states” had ended in 2014 (the year Modi became the PM), but the Bengal CM had resumed such talk. He also praised Modi and Shah’s efforts to “strengthen the economy of the Northeast region”.
The Centre has criticised West Bengal several times on its Covid-19 management, including its level of testing and its mortality rate, which at 13.2% is the highest in the country. It has also questioned the state government’s decision to not allow movement of goods through the India-Bangladesh border, saying it could adversely impact New Delhi’s commitments to the neighbouring country.
Sources said the last straw for Banerjee was the row over the movement of migrant labourers, with the state on Saturday questioning a letter by Union Home Minister Amit Shah that reportedly accused it of not felicitating the return of its residents from outside West Bengal. “A furious Chief Minister decided to not hold back at the video-conference with the Prime Minister.”
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