Bengal chief secretary’s transfer order again exposes Modi govt’s disdain for India’s federal structure

By virtually penalising Alapan Bandyopadhyay, coordinating the task to fight COVID in West Bengal, Modi has also made it clear that he has no respect and concern for the people of the state

Bengal chief secretary’s transfer order again exposes Modi govt’s disdain for India’s federal structure

Arun Srivastava

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was absolutely right when he pointed out that the second wave of COVID, which has consumed lakhs of innocent people, happened because of PM Narendra Modi apathy and failure to perform his moral responsibilities.

His decision to recall the chief secretary of Bengal, Alapan Bandyopadhyay to the Central pool within two days of giving him three months’ extension in service is just another example of this. Besides carrying out his routine responsibilities, Alapan has been functioning as the nodal officer and coordinating the task to fight COVID in West Bengal.

He was given an extension at the request of Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. By virtually penalising him, Modi has made it clear that he has no respect and concern for the people of Bengal. All the concern he showed during the election campaigning were merely false pretensions. He treated the people of Bengal merely as voters, not human beings.

Rahul was right in saying: “Change your style of functioning, Mr Prime Minister. Lakhs of people have died because of your deeds. More people will be killed.”

After visiting cyclone-affected Odisha and Bengal on Friday, Modi was to interact with Mamata and Naveen Patnaik. He interacted with Patnaik, during which he did not invite opposition leaders. But he preferred to discuss the Bengal situation in presence of BJP leaders, the state’s Governor, and Central ministers. This obviously implied that he does not recognize Mamata as an independent entity and authority, as the chief minister of Bengal.

Mamata was to meet him at Kalaikund. Later, talking to newsmen, she clarified: “I and Alapan Bandyopadhyay waited for Modi for 10-15 minutes at Kalaikunda. When we tried to meet him, we were told by the SPG to wait for an hour. Later on we heard that they were going to the conference room. We went there. We stood at some distance from him and explained the situation. Later, they showed some empty chairs. Why didn’t they release footage of us standing in front of the Prime minister? The PMO is feeding fake news to the media”.

She handed over a report prepared by the state government on the damage caused by the cyclone Yaas to Modi and left Digha after taking his permission. She did not attend the review meeting attended by others.

Interestingly, the former Gujarat Congress chief, Bharat Solanki took a jibe at Modi: “It is good to know that PMO has invited leader of the Opposition in Bengal as well to the meeting convened to discuss Yaas cyclone aftermath! I am surprised he forgot to invite the Opposition leader of Gujarat during his recent visit of Tauktae cyclone affected areas”.

According to the protocol, a state’s chief secretary is answerable to its chief minister and no one else. Undeniably, Mamata’s decision to skip the meet has led to a political storm and Alapan finds himself caught in it as he is the soft target.

Mamata’s allegation that Modi is feeling humiliated after BJP failed to wrest control of West Bengal is absolutely correct. Modi is finding it tough to digest the defeat and is resorting to one action after another to hit back at Mamata.

On Saturday, Mamata said: “We got a landslide victory and that is your only worry. You want to bulldoze the federal structure. There are two sets of law for Bengal and the other states… Why are you behaving like this? You can’t digest the defeat. Every time you are going for confrontation…in my state whenever you come you create confusion and confrontation”.

Nevertheless, Mamata appealed to Modi to withdraw the order attaching state chief secretary. She said: “For the sake of Bengal, I am ready to touch the feet of the Prime Minister, if that makes him happy. But this is political vendetta. Don’t defame me, don’t humiliate me.”

Mamata also quipped: “It is ironical that Narendra Modi, who as chief minister from 2001 to 2014 was the greatest votary of the autonomy of states in a federal set-up, now has taken upon himself the task of destroying India’s federal structure with the intolerance of an Aurangzeb.”

But it seems highly unlikely that Modi would rescind the order. Under the relevant provisions, the Centre cannot issue a unilateral order to an IAS officer not under its control. Moreover, the directive issued to Alapan is not a posting order because it does not mention to which post he was being appointed.

Jawahar Sarkar, a retired IAS officer, rightly pointed out that it is humiliating that a senior Union secretary-ranking officer is told to report to a Central ministry, much like sub-inspectors of police are ordered. He mentioned that the Central government cannot force IAS or IPS officers to join a Central posting in Delhi against his will, without either his written ‘option’ or his cadre-controlling authority, the state government, giving him prior clearance to ‘opt’ for the Centre.

The Centre has to inform the state government of its intention to take deputationists from the state and officers have to give their 'options', which then has to be cleared by the state, he said.

Sarkar also pointed out: “Incidentally, the national record for not permitting state IAS and IPS officers to go on Central postings is held by none other than Narendra Modi as CM”.

“The gross injustice of heckling an officer of this rank by summoning him to Delhi on that very day hits even those who are ardent fans of strong administration,” he added.

There is no denying the fact that the order is politically vindictive. It also highlights not only the petty-mindedness of Modi but his style of constantly attacking his political adversaries. This underlines his arrogance and disrespect for democracy and its functioning.

This development also once again exposes the fact that India is having autocratic rule, where the rights of the people to get basic health care are being flouted.

This also got manifested in BJP leaders blaming Mamata for showing ‘disrespect’ to Modi. They cannot dare to question Modi for violating the democratic norms.

Mamata Banerjee was right when she said that Modi’s action undermines federalism and she is being prevented from governing Bengal even after her party won a thumping majority at the assembly elections.

(IPA Service)

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Published: 31 May 2021, 6:48 PM