An Ugly Fight

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Modi and Mamata must work together for the development of West Bengal

There is much bad blood going on between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress even after the election results in West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has refused to relieve state chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay for joining the central government on deputation. Hours after Banerjee skipped a review meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the backdrop of cyclone Yaas, the Centre recalled Bandyopadhyay for central deputation. Though she skipped the review meeting she met Modi briefly at the Kalaikunda air base in West Bengal later. Her action to skip the meeting with the Prime Minister was obviously taken as an affront by the central government which decided to transfer the topmost bureaucrat of the state by way of sending out a message to her. The chief secretary was directed to report to the Department of Personnel and Training in Delhi by May 31. It is surprising to note that the Centre, which had given three months’ extension to Bandyopadhyay, chose to recall him to Delhi. He was given extension by the central government specifically to allow him to carry on with the work related to the management of COVID-19 pandemic.

Banerjee wrote a letter to Modi on Monday saying she was “shocked and stunned” by the “unilateral and unprecedented order” of the Centre and would not relieve Bandyopadhyay from the state service. Alleging that the Centre was pursuing “vendetta politics” by transferring her chief secretary, she pointed out the flaws in the transfer order issued by the Department of Personnel and Training transferring the seniormost state official. She said the central government failed to hold prior consultation, without any volition/option of the officer, without meeting any of the pre-conditions of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954, and other applicable laws. “The unilateral order/directive is legally untenable, historically unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional,” Banerjee said in her letter to Modi. She has gone on to request the Prime Minister to withdraw, recall, reconsider the decision and rescind the latest so-called order in the larger public interest. Besides Banerjee, many senior IAS officers, politicians and others have faulted the Centre’s action in transferring Bandyopadhyay, stating that such action could damage the federal structure of the country.

The latest case of conflict between the Centre and the West Bengal government is a part of the war of attrition apparently going on between the Centre and the eastern state. There were several cases of conflict between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress during the elections to the state Assembly. These battles appear to have escalated after the BJP, despite using all the means to mount a high-octave election campaign, failed in wresting power from the TMC. Post election results and prior to and after the assumption of Chief Minister’s office again by Mamata Banerjee, the state witnessed violent conflicts between the BJP and the TMC cadres. There have been allegations of the TMC unleashing a series of attacks on BJP leaders and workers after the party got a huge mandate. On the other hand, the TMC alleged that BJP workers used the presence of central armed forces during the elections to attack TMC workers.

At a time when the country is fighting the pandemic and rebuilding lives after two cyclones which hit the western and eastern parts of the country in less than two weeks, the Centre and states need to work together in the interest of the people. Political battles could be deferred to the future, when the people are free from the fear of the pandemic. Victory and defeat in elections are a part of political life. No party should use violence to settle scores when democracy has given only one means of vote to settle all scores. Political parties have to work to bridge divides in the society, not to widen them. They should truly work in public interest as they always claim they do. The Centre and the West Bengal government should work together in these difficult times respecting the mandate of the people in the elections. Using unfair means to score political goals could have a disastrous effect on society. Federalism must be respected by the Centre.