Herald View: Pick your fights carefully, sir! : PM makes a non-issue into a prestige issue
Even if Chief Secretary of West Bengal kept the PM waiting or slighted him by not attending a meeting, a written reprimand putting on record the PM's disappointment should have been enough
Battles must be chosen wisely so that even when battles are lost, the aggressor does not lose face. But the battles picked by the Union Government with opposition ruled states look like reckless tilting at windmills. It however clearly believes they are masterstrokes. But why get embroiled in an avoidable controversy over an IAS officer skipping a review meeting with the Prime Minister? When the country is staring at multiple crises and all hands are required to be on the deck, what justification can the PMO offer for ignoring the bigger battles and make a non-issue into a prestige issue? The PMO’s petulant conduct has gone to strengthen the perception that this Government is more concerned with the image of the Prime Minister than about more substantive issues; that its priorities are to win elections, score political points, manage the headlines and humiliate the rivals. The facts related to the controversy are stark enough.
The Union Government in saner times would have sent a central team of experts to assess damages caused by cyclone Yaas. But these days the hands-on Prime Minister, who allegedly works 18 hours a day, has taken over the task. While Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee claims she found the PM holding a meeting with BJP leaders, the PMO has claimed since the PM’s helicopter landed at 1.55 pm and the Chief Minister’s at 2.10 pm, the PM was kept waiting for 15 minutes. The CM in fact claimed that it was she and her CS who were made to wait for 20 minutes before they could meet the PM. Photographs released by the Bengal Governor showed the leader of the opposition in the Assembly participating in the review meeting. “Sources in the Government” have told the media that this was not irregular but refrained from citing instances in support and without clarifying if it was a political meeting or an administrative review meeting. If the CM was graceless in leaving the meeting, the PM was not less so. What is more, even if the Chief Secretary was guilty of showing disrespect to the Prime Minister or dereliction of duty, a show cause notice and an official letter expressing the deep displeasure and disappointment of the Government should surely have sufficed.
Ironically, the former Chief Secretary has been served with a show cause notice under the Disaster Management Act. The DOPT has made a laughing stock of itself by serving the notice because clearly the meeting was not convened under the Act. It is also funny that the Government should invoke the Act for missing a meeting while the Act was never invoked against Union Ministers and political leaders who flouted Covid protocols issued by the Government.
The Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister addressed election rallies and attended road shows without wearing masks and failed to ensure that ruling party workers and supporters do so. The Union Government, which never tires to repeat that law and order is a state subject, sees nothing wrong in providing BJP MLAs in Bengal with central para-military forces. CBI fails to arrest the leader of the opposition in the Assembly, an accused in the Narada sting, but rushes to arrest opposition ministers in the same case. They show the bizarre lengths New Delhi is willing to go in picking a fight. It is a pity that the PMO, as George Bernard Shaw might say, belie