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Sorry, Yechury, you ain’t dais-class


Calcutta, Jan. 18: No one is calling it “offloading” yet but Sitaram Yechury won’t be among those flying “dais-class” when Calcutta airport’s new terminal takes off ceremonially this Sunday.

The CPM leader and Rajya Sabha MP, who is also the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture that deals with civil aviation, has been invited to the event but his name does not figure among those shortlisted to be on the dais. President Pranab Mukherjee will inaugurate the facility in the presence of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and others.

Protocol does not require the chairman of the committee to be on the platform with other dignitaries but Yechury’s omission stands out for two reasons.

One, he was on the dais on December 2008 when the project was formally flagged off in the presence of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Two, sources suggest that there was a tentative proposal this time, too, to extend the courtesy to him since he remains the chairman of the parliamentary panel. But the plan was grounded in Bengal, probably because of the well-documented aversion of the Trinamul leadership to share space with CPM leaders.

The sources said the civil aviation ministry had informally sounded out the Bengal government on whether Yechury should be invited to sit on the dais or among the audience along with other members of the parliamentary committee.

What precisely happened next is not clear, unlike the outcome. “There are reservations about him. So the name doesn’t figure in the list of dignitaries on the dais,” said a source.

Aviation ministry officials clarified that protocol did not require the chairman of the parliamentary committee to be on the dais. An officer said that the President’s office gives the final nod to people sitting on the dais as Mukherjee will be the chief guest.

“However, special invitations can be sent to someone as was done during the foundation stone laying ceremony,” said a senior Airports Authority of India (AAI) official from Delhi.

At the foundation event in 2008, Mukherjee, then external affairs minister, was present as Bhattacharjee, the then chief minister, wanted his presence. Yechury had delivered a short speech at the programme.

Yechury is now in Calcutta for a party programme. “I have received a formal invitation from the chairman of the Airports Authority of India to be present at the programme,” Yechury said today in response to a question.

“I can recollect that (in 2008) I had received a call from AAI authorities, who had requested me to speak at the inaugural programme. There was a chair on the dais with a plaque bearing my name on the table in front,” he added.

“But no one has called me from AAI this time till now,” Yechury said.

Some Trinamul ministers had said publicly that CPM supporters should be socially boycotted.

Yechury, however, said that he did not have any reservations sharing the dais with Mamata. “It’s a government programme. If I am invited to sit beside her, why should I object?” Yechury asked.

The shortlist for the dais includes Mukherjee, Mamata, governor M.K. Narayanan, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, his junior minister K.C. Venugopal, Trinamul MP from Dum Dum Saugata Ray and the party’s local MLA and education minister Bratya Basu and a few civil aviation ministry officials.

Ray said there was no reason to invite the CPM MP — who represents the Rajya Sabha from Bengal — on the dais. “Yechury is not from Calcutta. So why should he be invited to sit on the dais?” Ray asked.