Why are Mamata and the WB Governor locking horns amid lockdown?
The next year’s polls in Bengal where Amit Shah and BJP once vowed to make a mark cannot but make Mamata wary of the Centre’s moves
Amid her continuing tussle with the Centre, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has on the one hand stepped up her attack against Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and on the other indicated that she is toying with a tentative timetable, beginning from May 4, to lift the current Coronavirus lockdown.
The last of the two moves came on Thursday, April 23, even as a blanket shutdown is currently clamped on throughout the state like the rest of the country for over a month from now to fight the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus.
In a media interaction, Mamata, though not as a Chief Minister but as a “citizen and Trinamool Congress chief”, said that she wanted the lockdown to be lifted in a graded way. This should be completed in three stages and in two weeks time, she said. It should begin, as per an NDTV report citing the Chief Minister, with a 25 per cent opening up of the state from the day the current deadline for the countrywide lockdown ends on May 3. The following week another 50 per cent lockdown was proposed by her to be lifted and in the next week, the rest of it. This is a move that has been suggested by her as a wish though with a few riders like avoiding running of long distance trains and restoring flights for some time. With this, Mamata has become first Chief Minister to have come up with any such plan. Thus, it puts her ahead of her peers in other states.
At another level, this also escalates questions related to the lockdown and its longevity which have already been confronting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He may well have to take a call on this among other issues when he joins a video conference with Chief Ministers on April 27, or just a week before the deadline earlier set by him to lift the lockdown comes to an end.
Thus, the way events have been unfolding in Bengal in the past few days assume quite a bit of significance. These indicate that the Centre apprehended Mamata to make some or the other move to outdo the Centre with regard to the lockdown. And this is how two central government teams were sent to Bengal a few days ago and were putting up in the state (till the time of writing this little account) to check the efficacy of the lockdown being implemented there and report to the Centre.
Mamata did not take the Centre’s move kindly. And soon this gave way to a bitter tussle between the Centre and the state. Governor Dhankhar took umbrage to what he called Mamata’s non-cooperation with the central teams and angry letters were shot off to each other both by the Governor and the Chief Minister. On Thursday, Mamata’s seven-page letter to Dhankhar was made public by her party’s MPs Derek O’ Brien and Mahua Moitra. The Chief Minister’s letter to the Governor pointed out to his minimal say as per the Constitution, law and conventions in the running of the state by an elected Government. The Governor replied back the same evening refuting Mamata’s assertions and pointing out violations of Constitution and failing in duty on her part.
Dhankhar promised to send another more detailed reply to her on April 24, saying, “The people would be wisened about your stance once tomorrow I make full disclosure of details and documentation that will startle all. I never wanted to take recourse to this but in view of your factually untenable stand and your going public, this has become compulsive need.”
So both Mamata and Governor look like “compulsively” locking horns at a time when the Centre and the state should have ideally got onto the same page to fight the COVID-19 threat. Though sad this may look, the question is why is it so? The answer to this lies in the fact that politics has always been thought to be a business of positioning. And taking the right, or a better, position in the eyes of people has become all the more urgent from the point of view of both the BJP-ruled Centre and Mamata’s state-level party.
The next year’s polls in Bengal where Amit Shah and BJP once vowed to make a mark cannot but make Mamata wary of the Centre’s moves. Thus, in a bid to reinforce her party, she wants to be seen as a saviour by the people of the state. This is obviously possible only by guiding them to safety and keeping the BJP-led Centre away from running away with the credit.
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