Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (left) with Subrata Mukherjee (next to him) and Manas Bhuniya (right). Picture by SK Sinha
Calcutta, June 7: If cyclone Aila had offered Mamata Banerjee an opportunity to hound a poll-battered Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister hit back today by highlighting her partner Congress’s presence at an all-party meeting to discuss relief and rehabilitation at Writers’ Buildings.
The Congress joined the meeting ostensibly to record its criticism of the government’s disaster management failure but many in the CPM were happy, apparently having succeeded in driving a small wedge between the Opposition allies.
The Trinamul Congress skipped the meeting and if the reaction of its state president is anything to go by, it did not take kindly to the Congress’s gesture.
Bhattacharjee didn’t let go of the opportunity, pointing out his rapport with Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee. “Why should we think our meeting ended in a deadlock just because the principal Opposition party didn’t turn up? We held the meeting successfully…. All the Left parties were there. The Congress, a national party which is running the government at the Centre, was present,” he said.
“I am in touch with the Prime Minister, finance minister and the home minister. We are working together (to tackle the post-cyclone crisis). The Congress leaders today assured me that they would try their best to ensure central assistance,” he added.
The chief minister underlined the importance of the Congress several times while briefing the media on the 90-minute meeting. “The Congress gave the suggestion and others agreed to it. So we decided to meet again next Sunday,’’ Bhattacharjee said.
According to him, many participants felt they had had little time to ponder over the government’s report on the damage and destruction since it was only circulated during today’s meeting. “They will come up with their considered opinion next week.”
Manas Bhuniya and Sub- rata Mukherjee of the Congress not only signed the official resolution urging a joint effort by the state and the Centre to help the distressed but also agreed to attend the second round.
Yesterday, state Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya had said that not attending the meeting would show “the party in poor light across the country”.
At the media briefing, Subrata tried to highlight how critical his party had been of the state government at the meeting. “We ripped apart the state government for its shoddy relief work. We told the chief minister that the CPM was doing politics over distribution of relief, which has not reached many.”
The chief minister, too, was politically correct, admitting the failure to reach out to the people in remote areas and stressing that the meeting had been called to rise above “narrow politics”.
Bhattacharjee said: “You ask the principal Opposition party why they didn’t turn up. It is unfortunate that she did not attend the meeting despite my invite. Nor did she send a reply to it…. We can’t stop our efforts just because of their absence. Our invitation (to Trinamul) stands.”
Trinamul state chief Subrata Bakshi said: “The Congress protests at the meeting were an eyewash. They are helping the CPM improve its image, which has taken a beating.”
Mamata said her party would also not attend next Sunday’s meeting. “We cannot oblige those who could not send a drop of drinking water to the cyclone-hit in a week by attending an all-party meeting.”
Asked about the Congress, she said: “The Congress is a different party and has its own compulsions. Maybe the Congress is thinking that the CPM may not attend an all-party meeting when it calls one.”