Monday, 30th October 2017

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Mamata calls out back-seat Shah

Don’t blame states: CM tells PM

By Meghdeep Bhattacharyya in Calcutta
  • Published 12.05.20, 5:29 AM
  • Updated 12.05.20, 5:29 AM
  • 3 mins read
Mamata Banerjee (Telegraph picture)

Mamata Banerjee on Monday told Narendra Modi to his virtual face that some of his colleagues were playing politics with Bengal and went on to name Amit Shah, who was seated behind the Prime Minister, mincing no words at an online meeting attended by chief ministers from across the country.

Prefacing her candid statement with a qualifier — “I don’t feel good saying this” — the chief minister asked the Prime Minister why the people of Bengal were being discriminated against and accused the Centre of trying to pass the buck to the states when “the desired results are not achieved in the fight against Covid-19”.

“We all are trying our best. I don’t feel good saying this but why this discrimination against people of Bengal? Why are letters being sent to the media with rampant accusations? We have been working relentlessly, yet some central ministers are doing politics. This is not right for federalism,” Mamata told Modi.

“Honourable Prime Minister, you know this, you have been a chief minister of a state (Gujarat) yourself. All states must get their due respect,” she added.

Mamata, who has been steering clear of friction in line with her stand against politicising the pandemic fight, spoke up after a month of relentless attack by the administrative, political and propaganda sword-arms of the BJP-led dispensation at the Centre.

The chief minister directly questioned Union home minister Amit Shah’s recent leap into the ring by sending her a letter — the core content of it leaked from Delhi to journalists — on stranded migrant workers.

“I respect Mr Amit Shah. Last time also he spoke about Bengal and I could not counter him because I was not given a chance,” Mamata said, referring to a video conference on April 27 when she was not allowed to speak.

“But why did Mr Amit Shah need to write a letter and send that to the press? After it was out in the news, people were asking me…. Why don’t you speak to us directly? I request this must not happen to other states,” she added.

Mamata said that rather than passing on the responsibility to the states, the Centre must come out with a clear strategy on the way forward in combating Covid-19.

She said that until now, the Centre had led the country’s Covid response and the states had implemented the measures.

“Now, as the desired results are not achieved, you cannot shift the responsibility and onus on the states,” she said, adding that she saw no point in continuing with the lockdown after May 17 as the Centre “has opened almost everything”.

On Monday, Mamata did not address the media after the online meeting but the salient points of her address were shared with journalists by the Trinamul Congress’s media cell.

Unlike Bengal, Gujarat, Modi’s home state where the condition as of now is far worse than many other states, has been handled by the Centre with kid gloves and spared the harsh treatment.

Mamata asked Modi: “When something happens in Gujarat or an ordinance is declared to snatch away the rights of the labourers in Uttar Pradesh, why don’t you question them? Why are you targeting Bengal and its people by sending notices?”

“We all know this virus has come from outside India. Yet, when we are not pointing fingers at any other country, why are we pointing fingers at our own states and our own people?” she asked.

“Let me assure you and all my fellow states here that the people of Bengal stand with you firmly in a good spirit of federalism and more importantly in the spirit of humanity. My only humble request is don’t bulldoze the federal structure,” she added.

The chief minister said she was not spoiling for a confrontation but was calling for unity in adversity.

“Bengal is a very sensitive state and one cannot compare Bengal with other states…. Out of the 10 (large) corona-affected states; Bengal ranks the lowest…. Irrespective of the ruling party of the states, this is the time to work together; it would be my humble suggestion,” Mamata said.

“We are together in this crisis. However, somehow Bengal has been targeted by the central government to get political mileage,” she added.

Mamata listed details of Bengal’s efforts to fight the pandemic and the help accorded by the state to migrant workers, inbound and outbound.

She again named Shah who had insinuated that Bengal was not keen on bringing back migrants from other states in spite of the Centre running special trains.

“I request Mr Amit Shah to ensure that no money is taken from the migrant workers. They do not have money. If it is needed, please ask us, we will pay. We paid Rs 5 crore to bring back those stranded in Kota. We paid for people who are stuck in Vellore, Chennai and other parts of India. We have also sent Rs 1,000 to 4 lakh workers across India,” Mamata said.

She demanded measures such as the release of Rs 52,972 crore in dues to Bengal from the Centre, allotment of 6 per cent of the GDP by the Centre for healthcare, and a one-year moratorium on repayment of loans and interest by the state government.