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Red-tape close shave for Modi chopper

Calcutta, Feb. 4: In its hurry to go national, the Bengal BJP went local and almost derailed Narendra Modi’s scheduled landing in Calcutta tomorrow. But the party blamed the Centre for the mix-up.

BJP state leaders spent several tense hours after they learnt this morning that the army had declined landing facility at the RCTC helipad to the private chopper carrying Narendra Modi. The helicopter was supposed to take Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial face, from the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport to the helipad, from where he would proceed to the Brigade Parade Grounds by car tomorrow.

After spending several hours planning alternative arrangements to bring Modi to the rally venue, the BJP leadership learnt this evening that they would not have to tweak the original plan.

“We feel relieved after the army eventually gave us permission for the use of its RCTC helipad for Modiji tomorrow after a day-long tug-of-war,” state BJP president Rahul Sinha said tonight.

The BJP leader said efforts were on to land Modi’s chopper on the Behala flying club ground. “But we cancelled our alternative arrangement following the army’s permission to use its helipad,” he said.

Sinha blamed the Centre for “creating confusion”, though it emerged later that the BJP had failed to follow the procedure required for landing permission at RCTC.

“They were unnecessarily trying to harass us,” said Sinha, launching an attack on the Centre and setting the stage for tomorrow’s rally where the party’s prime ministerial candidate is expected to unleash another attack at Delhi.

Sources in the army said the confusion happened because of inept handling by the state BJP leadership.

An army source in New Delhi said the organisers of the rally made the mistake of approaching Fort William, the army’s Eastern Command headquarters, instead of sending the application to the ministry of defence in Delhi. “When private helicopters have to use defence land, the sanction has to be given by the ministry (of defence). A small form has to be filled and it can be done in 30 minutes. But in this case, they approached the army directly,” the source said.

Some sources in the BJP corroborated the version by the army source and admitted there was a mistake. “We made a procedural mistake by approaching Fort William here for the use of its helipad instead of sending a request to the ministry of defence. Had it been done, the mess could have been avoided,” said a state BJP leader.

But Bengal BJP chief Sinha refused to buy the argument, saying: “We had written to Fort William about 10 days ago for the use of its helipad for Modiji and were under the impression that the army here would take it up with the ministry of defence to facilitate the permission.”

According to him, when the state BJP leaders approached Fort William during the day, they were told that the permission for the use of its helipad could not be given to a leader of a political party. They were told that the matter could be considered if a request was made by the chief minister’s office in Gujarat.

“We immediately facilitated a request from the CMO in Gujarat around 11am today after our leaders were told to get it done by the army officers here. But that, too, was not considered,” Sinha said. “This was done to humiliate the Gujarat chief minister.”

The state BJP leadership at a news conference also accused the Mamata Banerjee government of not doing its bit to take care of the policemen from Gujarat and the NSG (National Security Guard) personnel.

“It is the duty of the state government to take care of the policemen from Gujarat and the NSG personnel who are camping here to oversee Modiji’s security. But the state government has not done its bit for their food and lodging,” Sinha said.

In April last year, the Bengal BJP had accused the state government of denying the party permission to organise a public reception for Modi at Netaji Indoor Stadium and “falsely” stating that the auditorium was already booked by a private party a year ago. As a result, the Gujarat chief minister had to address his party workers at Mahajati Sadan auditorium.