West Bengal Chief Secretary quits amid Mamata-Modi row
Alapan Bandyopadhyay has quit as West Bengal Chief Secretary and will now serve as Chief Adviser to the state government, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced today. Earlier, Banerjee had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying she would not send Bandyopadhyay back to Delhi - a decision against the central government's order. Bandyopadhyay was to report in Delhi by 10 am today.
"The government of Bengal cannot release, and is not releasing, its Chief Secretary at this critical hour, on the basis of our understanding that the earlier order of extension, issued after lawful consultation in accordance with applicable laws, remains operational," Banerjee had written in a letter to the PM. Centre's order recalling Bandyopadhyay came days after his tenure was extended by three months.
Banerjee insisted that Bandyopadhyay should continue serving in his current position and work toward the management of West Bengal's coronavirus situation. Bandyopadhyay's recall came just hours after Banerjee skipped a Cyclone Yaas-related review meeting with PM Modi, an incident that triggered sharp reactions from the leaders of the BJP. Banerjee met the PM briefly at the Kalaikunda airbase where his helicopter had landed.
In her letter today, Banerjee called the Centre's new order "legally untenable, historically unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional." "Does it have anything to do with our meeting at Kalaikunda," she asked the PM. If that was the case, it would be "sad, unfortunate and would amount to sacrificing public interest at the altar of misplaced priorities," the CM said.
Banerjee further said that Suvendu Adhikari, her former aide and now a BJP member, and State Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had no role in that meeting. "I am on the view that he (Adhikari) had no locus to be present at a PM-CM meeting," she wrote.
BJP leaders have accused Banerjee of "insulting" the PM by skipping a scheduled meeting with him. It was also alleged that she made PM Modi wait for 30 minutes before reporting. Banerjee and her party members, meanwhile, say she already had prior meetings planned before the PM called the meeting, adding that she sought PM Modi's permission before leaving the meeting venue.
The meeting on Friday between PM Modi and Banerjee was politically significant as it marked the first time the two leaders were face-to-face following a bitterly-fought election in West Bengal. Banerjee's party won the election with a landslide victory, forming the government for a third straight term. Even before the elections, both the sides have disagreed on various issues such as allocation of funds.