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Mamata Banerjee should learn from Naveen Patnaik on how to fulfil constitutional duties, avoid pettiness in political rivalry

The one motif that repeatedly emerges in Mamata Banerjee’s politics is pettiness. Her pettiness and vengeance have reached such remarkable proportions that the West Bengal chief minister frequently loses her sense of balance. The inordinately long Lok Sabha polls seem to be testing her patience.

For instance, she recently lost her cool when her passing cavalcade in Chandrakona town of West Midnapore district was subjected to 'Jai Shri Ram' chants from locals. A furious Mamata abruptly stopped the convoy and chased the sloganeers. According to reports, West Bengal police detained three villagers for chanting Jai Shri Ram. They were later released.

And what has been Mamata’s justification behind this despotic behaviour? "Does Ramchandra become BJP’s election agent when the election comes? Why should I give your slogan? I will not chant the name of rotten Modi or rotten BJP. They are trying to erase the culture of Bengal,” PTI quoted her as saying.

 Mamata Banerjee should learn from Naveen Patnaik on how to fulfil constitutional duties, avoid pettiness in political rivalry

File image of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Reuters

One wonders if the "culture of Bengal”, that its mercurial chief minister claims to be the sole custodian of, is to detain civilians for praising Lord Rama. Truth be told, Mamata has subverted Bengal’s syncretic culture to run a parochial campaign bordering on soft separatism, and now uses that as a beating stick to justify her acts. The West Midnapore episode proves Mamata has become increasingly jittery over BJP’s rising political graph in the state. It also points at simmering discontent in Bengal over Trinamool Congress’ politics of violence and intimidation. The Jai Shri Ram slogan is being used as a mark of defiance.

When the practitioner of petty politics becomes insecure about her political future, the result is a level of bitterness unprecedented even in the disappointing standards of Indian politics. Mamata frequently talks of upholding the “federal structure”. It isn’t clear how she was meeting her end of the bargain in honouring the “federal structure” by refusing to take the prime minister’s calls to discuss the effects of Cyclone Fani in the state. Not once, but twice.

Such an act of spiteful irresponsibility is not unexpected of Mamata. She has redrawn Centre-state relations in the five years of NDA rule and has blocked implementation of central schemes in the state. The amusing aspect, however, is the way the state government tried to justify Mamata’s snub by turning the allegation on its head. TMC claimed that in speaking to West Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, the prime minister has done an unconstitutional act.

"This is an attack on a federal structure and a deviation from the Constitution. By calling the Governor, he (Modi) has acted as leader of the BJP and not as a prime minister. How can he deny the mandate of our people? Mamata Banerjee is the elected Chief Minister of Bengal. This is unfortunate,” reports quoted TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee, as saying.

It later emerged that Mamata ignored two phone calls from the prime minister’s office and did not bother to return the calls. Officials clarified that "two attempts were made by the PM’s staff to connect Modi with Banerjee over the phone. On both the occasions they were told that the call would be returned. On one occasion they were told that the chief minister is on tour".

Things started unravelling when Modi picked up the topic in an election rally in West Bengal. Speaking to the crowd at Tamluk in East Midnapore district, Modi called Mamata "arrogant".

"I am just back from Odisha after reviewing the post-cyclone situation. I also wanted to speak to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee over phone to discuss the matter. I had called her but Didi is so arrogant that she didn’t speak to me. I waited for her to call but she didn’t get back to me… Speedbreaker Didi is more interested in doing politics. I wanted to speak to the state officials but the state government did not allow that to happen.”

It wasn’t too long until Mamata hit back, and when she did, she ended up contradicting her own party’s stand. The TMC had earlier alleged that prime minister bypassed the chief minister in speaking to the governor. Mamata revealed that she didn’t consider it necessary to receive or return the prime minister’s calls.

“I don’t consider him the country’s prime minister, hence I didn’t sit for the meeting. I don’t want to be seen with him on the same platform. I will speak to the next prime minister. We can take care of cyclone damage by ourselves. We don’t need Centre’s help ahead of polls,” she said at a campaign rally in Jhargram.

What emerges from this exchange is the immaturity of Mamata, the administrator. The TMC chief is not the only regional leader fighting to stave off BJP’s challenge. In the neighbouring state of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik is battling equally hard, if not more, to quell the challenge of BJP as BJD’s chief rival. If anything, the challenge for Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik is even greater because he is battling on two fronts — since Odisha is undergoing simultaneous elections for Assembly and Lok Sabha.

However, that hasn’t stopped Patnaik from carrying on with his constitutional duties under the federal structure of government and to coordinate with the Centre to limit the damage of Cyclone Fani and provide fast relief.

The prime minister conducted a joint aerial survey of the tempest-affected areas in Odisha, announced assistance for the family of those deceased and those who are injured, and with Patnaik by his side told reporters that “Naveen Babu has done great work... it is not a small thing to shift nearly 12 lakh people", while underscoring the "perfect coordination" and "perfect communication" between the state and central governments.

Political analysts may choose to read between the lines and interpret it as on olive branch towards the BDJ chief for a post-poll scenario. Be that as it may, the two leaders at the Centre and state level were executing their Constitutional responsibilities. There will be time enough for politics. Patnaik deserves credit for meeting the challenge of the most severe cyclone that has ever lashed his state and putting in place an efficient system so that the number of deaths was restricted to six. He also deserves plaudits for upholding the deferral structure.

Naveen’s work and gesture are a reminder to Mamata that one doesn’t need to be petty and irresponsible in executing one’s duties as the chief minister and meeting the challenge posed by a rival political party. For an ambitious leader who sees for herself a national role, Mamata has let herself down through her antics.

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Updated Date: May 07, 2019 18:49:30 IST