‘Under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership’: PM Modi’s rare praise for Bengal chief minister
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced a Rs 1,000 crore assistance to West Bengal after a first-hand assessment of the destruction due to cyclone Amphan this week. PM Modi, who assured people that the Centre would stand by the Trinamool Congress-ruled state, also showered rare praise on chief minister Mamata Banerjee who has been his fierce critic.
In a video statement made as he wrapped up the Bengal leg of his visit - he flew down to neighbouring Odisha - PM Modi noted that West Bengal was faced with a difficult situation because of the cyclone at a time the state and the country is battling with the coronavirus disease.
To deal with Covid-19, social distancing is required and people are told to stay where they are. But the cyclone required people in the affected areas to vacate their houses and move to safer places, he said.
But Bengal under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership has made commendable efforts.
Watch l ‘Fighting Covid & cyclone’: PM Modi announces interim relief for West Bengal
“Despite these contradictions, West Bengal is fighting well,” PM Modi’s office later tweeted, reiterating PM Modi’s commitment to stand with the people of Bengal in these “testing times”.
PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress have been bitter rivals in Bengal for years, particularly after the BJP set its eyes on getting a foothold in the state’s politics.
In last year’s general elections, the BJP’s aggressive campaign delivered 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. Much of this increase came at the cost of the Trinamool Congress which had to settle for 22 seats, down from the 32 it had won in 2014.
Home Minister Amit Shah, who had led the BJP campaign in Bengal and is credited for expanding the party’s tally from 2 to 18 Lok Sabha seats in five years, has made it clear that the BJP was aiming to come to power in Bengal in next year’s assembly elections.
Not surprisingly, Mamata Banerjee has been the BJP’s favourite punching bag in Bengal and is seen to be deeply suspicious of its moves.
Like when the Centre sent an inter-ministerial team to Bengal, among other states, Mamata Banerjee was the only chief minister to question the Centre’s motives. The central team was told to stay put at their guest house by state officials and not move out without a police escort.
The central team was still able to find flaws in the state’s handling of Covid-19, gaps that provided the state BJP leadership ammunition to target Mamata Banerjee and her government.
Back home in Kolkata, she also has a running feud with Governor Jagdeep Dhankar who often accuses her government of keeping him in the dark. Dhankar had fired his last attack at the state government over the Kolkata municipal corporation less than 24 hours earlier.
To be sure, Governor Dhankar has not attacked Mamata Banerjee for her handling of cyclone Amphan either. Hours before PM Modi landed in Kolkata - the governor also accompanied him on the aerial survey and attended the review meetings he chaired - Jagdeep Dhankar announced on Twitter that he had contributed Rs 50 lakh to the chief minister’s fund for Amphan relief work and asked people to chip in too.
Friday’s interaction between PM Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee was a contrast to the prime minister’s last visit to the state in January this year amid the protests over the amended citizenship law.
Banerjee had then deputed a minister to receive him at the airport and skipped a Kolkata Port Trust event. But she did later call on PM Modi at Raj Bhavan, describing it as a courtesy to the visiting dignitary.
A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office on PM Modi’s flying visit on Friday underlined that this was his second visit to the state this year. West Bengal, the PMO statement said, is the only state apart from Uttar Pradesh, where PM Modi has had multiple visits this year.
Prime Minister Modi hasn’t stepped out of Delhi for months due to the coronavirus outbreak and the emphasis on people staying at home. A PMO official said PM Modi’s last outstation visit was to Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj and Chitrakoot on February 28.