Her body language said it all. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sat right beside the Prime Minister, saree firmly drawn over shoulders like an armour, hands clasped to her chest almost in a motionless state. There was hardly a smile — not even a dry functional one — or a twinkle in her eyes.
Banerjee’s icy demeanour throughout the 45-minute programme at Calcutta University, where Manmohan Singh had gone on Saturday to announce the centenary year of the Indian Science Congress, made it clear she was far from pleased by the Centre’s delay in sanctioning a financial bailout for West Bengal.
While delivering her speech, the chief minister was markedly sombre, a far cry from the effusive self at the Eden Gardens while felicitating the Kolkata Knight Riders.
The chill was evident the moment Singh landed in Kolkata. Banerjee was nowhere in sight to greet him.
“Protocol demands the governor, chief minister, chief secretary and director general of police receive the prime minister at the airport,” said a bureaucrat.
Banerjee did not attend the function at Salt Lake either, where Singh laid the foundation stone of a unified building for Bose Institute, the premier research institute of the city.
The only platform they shared was at Calcutta University, where after the function, the two met for less than 10 minutes and Banerjee pressed for a few demands, one of them being a rollback of the petrol price hike.
Over the past year, Banerjee has been asking the Centre for a financial bailout package, the most crucial part of which is a three-year moratorium on the repayment of debts.
Though she has personally lobbied with the finance minister, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and even the Prime Minister, no help has been forthcoming.
On the dais at Calcutta University, there were a few moments when Banerjee tilted her head and exchanged a few words with Singh, but that was all they exchanged during the entire trip.