Calcutta, Jan. 11: Mamata Banerjee today showed an undeclared “yellow card” to Subrata Mukherjee, appearing keen to contain the confrontation with the governor but sticking to the practice of acting after subordinates had their say.
Sources said Mukherjee has been replaced as the de facto spokesperson for the government a day after the panchayat minister flashed “the yellow card” at governor M.K. Narayanan and vowed to keep a watch on him.
Industries minister Partha Chatterjee will fill the unofficial slot vacated by Mukherjee. Before her visit to North Bengal last month, Mamata had asked Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim to address the media on behalf of the government.
Hakim will be joined by Chatterjee who called on the governor today also in relation to Bengal Leads, the investors’ meet next week in Haldia.
Chatterjee said he went to Raj Bhavan to “hand over the copy of the valedictory speech the governor will deliver on the closing day of Bengal Leads”. But sources said law and order and Mukherjee’s comment also figured in the hour-long meeting in the afternoon.
Sources said Mamata conveyed the change about the spokesperson to Chatterjee and Hakim before leaving Writers’ Buildings this evening.
Reacting to the governor’s comment that the events in the last few days in Bengal were “a kind of goondaism”, Mukherjee had said in Writers’ Building yesterday that Narayanan was speaking like a “partyman”.
Party sources today said that while Mamata was unhappy with the governor’s statement that was interpreted as criticism of the government’s handling of the Bhangar situation and had wanted to convey her displeasure through one of her ministers, she realised that Mukherjee had overstepped his limit by some of his comments.
“Mamata sent this signal today by replacing Mukherjee as government spokesman as she wants to put an end, for now, to this growing confrontation with the governor,” a Trinamul minister said. “Subratada questioning the governor’s statement was fine, but the chief minister thought that he had overdone it by saying that a watch would be kept on him and that the yellow card was being shown.”
This morning, senior party leader and Trinamul MP Saugata Roy said constitutional experts had pointed out no restrictions were imposed on what the governor can speak and cannot speak. “The governor spoke what he felt was right. The Constitution does not specify what the governor can say, what he cannot. The Constitution experts have also said so and I agree with them,” Roy said. “It depends on individual governors to decide on which issues they would like to speak on.”
However, Roy added something that thickened the mystery behind Mukherjee’s statement. “Subrata is an experienced politician and spoke about what he felt,” the MP said.
That Subrata is a seasoned politician and is not given to thoughtless statements are well known, which had prompted suggestions that he could not have spoken out in such a manner without clearance from the top.
Whether Subrata did cross the brief on his own or he stuck to the endorsed line is the question that has not been answered.
Before being “replaced” by Partha, Subrata had appeared unfazed.
“I am not a constitution expert. Ask the constitution experts. Let the entire world say this. I have said whatever I had to say,” Subrata had said in reply to questions related to Roy’s statement and opinion by some Constitution experts.
Asked in the morning if he was sticking to his comments, Subrata had said: “Of course. Absolutely. I subscribe to what I had said on Thursday 100 per cent.”
However, after news of the “replacement” gained ground, Mukherjee did not answer calls.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack on CPM veteran Abdur Rezzak Mollah, too, a minister had first termed his hospitalisation “a drama”. The next day, Chatterjee called on the former minister at hospital with a bouquet.
Congress state president Pradip Bhattacharya said Subrata should have exercised caution. “The minister should keep in mind that there is someone to show the red card to this government which unleashes terror on people,” Bhattacharya said.
Asked to specify, Bhattacharya averted a direct reply. “I have already written to the Union home ministry requesting it to send a fact-finding team,” he said.