“Welfare of the people is supreme! A few days back, when parts of Bengal were affected by a cyclone, I called Didi, but she didn’t even talk to me. Her mindset of placing politics above people's welfare is deeply worrying”
Dr. Doel Ray from Kolkata
Cyclone ‘Fani’ (meaning the hood of a snake), dubbed as the strongest cyclonic storm to hit India in 20 years, made landfall in the early morning of May 3 in Puri. The ‘extremely severe’ cyclonic storm with a wind speed of over 200 km per hour raged across Odisha causing extensive damage, with the pilgrim town of Puri being the worst hit. However, it weakened to a lesser ‘severe’ category in a matter of hours, as it later entered West Bengal in the intervening night of May 3 and 4, crossing Kharagpur with a wind speed gusting to 90 kmph.
The cyclone swept through Arambagh, Bardhaman and coastal areas including Digha, Mandarmani, Tajpur, Sandeshkhali and Contai in West Bengal. Though the state reported no loss of life, the cyclonic storm uprooted trees, triggering moderate to heavy rainfall lashing several parts, destroyed at least 12 houses and damaged infrastructure in many areas, leaving them without any electricity. Volunteers including those belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have done praiseworthy relief work in the affected areas.
Mamata pulled out of Ayushman Bharat scheme because she was scared that the people of Bengal would chant the name of Modi when they benefit from the scheme Since ‘Fani’ caused havoc in Odisha, leaving a trail of destruction and claiming at least 41 lives, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi undertook an aerial survey and review of relief efforts with the Odisha Government. He thanked the people of Odisha, especially the fishing community and those in the coastal areas for their tremendous cooperation. He praised Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s tackling and also appreciated the seamless coordination between the Centre and Odisha Government that augured well in the run-up to Cyclone Fani and in helping affected citizens. He also assured that leveraging technology and human skills, work towards strengthening Odisha’s infrastructure will continue at a record pace.
I don't consider Modi the country's PM; hence, I didn't sit for the meeting. I don't want to be seen with him on the same platform” — Mamata Banerjee
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik sought Central assistance, laying emphasis on building disaster-resilient power infrastructure and affordable housing. Prime Minister announced ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured. In addition to the Rs. 341 crore provided in advance to the Odisha State Disaster Response Force, another Rs 1,000 crore as assistance was announced. PM Modi also stated that a Central team would visit Odisha soon to assess the extent of damage to infrastructure, housing, vegetation etc. and further relief needed. He also directed the State and Central government officers of power, telecom, railways, etc. to ensure restoration of services at the earliest. This time, United Nations and other experts have also lauded Indian authorities for its much-improved forecasting models, public awareness campaigns and rapid evacuation plans that averted a mass disaster, despite a densely populated region being in the eye of the storm.
‘Speed-breaker Didi’ only puts her sticker on every scheme run by the Central govt. It is an easier way of taking credit without doing anything. She is Sticker Didi tooNow, let us compare the above instance of political statesmanship to the sorry state of political dispensation in the state of West Bengal. PM Modi, who is hailed for his powerful ‘personal connect’ with the people, wrote on Twitter that “Spoke to Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi Ji, the Governor of West Bengal on the situation due to Cyclone Fani. Reiterated the Centre’s readiness to provide all help needed to cope with the cyclone. Also conveyed my solidarity with the people of Bengal in the wake of Cyclone Fani.” Soon, media reports emerged that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was upset that the PM had called Governor Tripathi and not her, to get feedback on the preparedness and ground situation in the state.
The damaged caused by Cyclone Fani in West Bengal
However, at an election rally in Bengal’s Tamluk soon after, Shri Modi exposed Mamata Banerjee, saying that he had tried to dial Mamata Didi not once but twice as he felt ‘worried’ about the people of Bengal, but such was her arrogance that she refused to talk to him. He underscored the point that he waited, expecting her to call him back. But she did not. Still, he called her again as he was worried about the people of Bengal, and wanted to speak to CM Mamata Didi. But she did not speak to him the second time either. PM Modi, who took stock of the situation in Odisha due to Cyclone Fani on May 6 morning, reportedly wanted to do the same for West Bengal and the Union government had urged a review meeting with the state government officials. However, the state government refused it, replying that the officials would be busy with election.
After being accused of ‘playing politics’ over cyclone relief, Mamata Banerjee retorted back from a rally from Bengal’s Bishnupur that she could not take the call as she was in Kharagpur, a town near Kolkata, to monitor the ground situation, while the Prime Minister was out campaigning. She further declared that she had not returned Narendra Modi’s calls to discuss Cyclone Fani, as she ‘does not want to share the dais with expiry PM as elections are on’. ‘Expiry PM’ is a term coined by her to underscore her claim that the Prime Minister’s term in office has expired and he won’t come back into power. Speaking at a Jhargram rally, Mamata Banerjee said, “I don't consider him the country's PM; hence, I didn't sit for the meeting. I don't want to be seen with him on the same platform. I’ll speak to the next PM. We can take care of cyclone damage by ourselves. We don’t need Centre’s help ahead of polls.” This is a new low in political discourse, a political storm over the superstorm.
To convey his message, PM Modi tweeted: “Welfare of the people is supreme! A few days back, when parts of West Bengal were affected by a cyclone, I called Didi, but she didn’t even talk to me. Her mindset of placing politics above people's welfare is deeply worrying”. Indeed, the tyranny of Mamata Banerjee has greatly hurt the people of West Bengal. BJP has earlier accused Mamata Banerjee of betraying the poor of Bengal by denying them the ‘Ayushman Bharat Healthcare Scheme’, free treatment up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year. Speaking at a rally in Durgapur, Shri Modi said: “a government which betrays the poor can never benefit anyone”. “Those who play with the lives of the poor should be punished”. He added that West Bengal could have been the largest beneficiary of Ayushman Bharat, but the local government snatched it from the poor people of Bengal.
The West Bengal government had in July last year signed an agreement with the Centre to implement the scheme under the joint banner Ayushman Bharat-Swasthya Sathi. PM Modi said, “Mamata pulled out of it because she was scared that the people of Bengal would chant the name of Modi when they benefit from this central scheme and get cured of ailments”. Nearly, 60 lakh families in West Bengal would suffer from the discontinuation of Ayushman Bharat scheme. The state’s Swasthya Sathi scheme only covers 50 lakh families, while Ayushman Bharat covered almost 1.11 crore or 55% of the state’s families.
The Centre pointed out that it has “promptly contributed more than Rs 175 crore in the first tranche to West Bengal under the scheme”. It has further accused the state government of violating the stipulations during several instances and providing incorrect facts which claim that the entire premium for the scheme is borne by the state government, making no mention of Ayushman Bharat or PM-JAY (PM Jan Arogya Scheme) even though the Centre is contributing 60% of the funds. Citing the memorandum of understanding, Centre or the state has to give three months notice before pulling out of the scheme. Union Health Ministry said they are exploring legal options and would also seek the refund of the amount already disbursed to the West Bengal government.
Under the Rs 75,000 crore Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme, Rs 6,000 per year would be disbursed in three instalments to around 12.5 crore small and marginal farmers having cultivable land up to 2 hectares or 5 acres. This laudable scheme was announced by the Central government in the Budget this year. However, in March 2019, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said more than 67.11 lakh farmers in West Bengal will be left out of this direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme as the state government has not yet uploaded their details on the PM-KISAN portal. Had the State availed the 1st instalment of Rs 1,342 crore, >67.11 lakh farmers in West Bengal would have benefitted Rs 2,000 each.
PM Modi has termed CM Mamata Banerjee “Speedbreaker Didi” for allegedly blocking implementation of central schemes in the state. BJP has often claimed that this attitude of hers has put the brakes on West Bengal’s development”. PM Modi also refers to Mamata Banerjee as ‘Sticker Didi’, accusing her of trying to usurp credit by labelling central welfare schemes like those run by her government. At an election rally in Bengal’s Ranaghat, he remarked that “Speed-breaker Didi only puts her sticker on every scheme run by the Union government. It is an easier way of taking credit without doing anything. She is Sticker Didi as well”. The Prime Minister reiterated that “free electricity connections to the poor are provided by the BJP-led government at the Centre. Around 7 lakh people have received free electricity connections in Bengal. The low-cost rations distributed among the poor also come from Delhi. Didi only puts her sticker on it to take tolabazi (extortion) from the people”.
Shri Modi also alleged that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) dispensation had taken after its predecessor Left Front government in adopting the culture of bloodshed. He exclaimed that in West Bengal today, law and order is in shambles, industries and businesses are in ruins and young people are migrating to other states for jobs. He accused CM Mamata Banerjee of being at the helm of a government, which is more like that of an “extortionist syndicate” virtually running the administration.
There have also been rampant allegations of corruption against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her family members, especially her nephew and MP Abhishek Banerjee. It has also been alleged that Mamata Banerjee’s family members have usurped over 15 ‘houses and land plots’ in prime locality in Kolkata - Kalighat, Alipore and Chetla through corrupt and covert deals. Some of the deeds in the names of Mamata’s brothers and sisters-in-law mention their addresses as 30B Harish Chatterjee Street i.e. Mamata’s residence. Reports have emerged regarding scores of residents being evicted allegedly by the CM’s family members, using her ‘high office’, and the local police station refused to act. It has been alleged that the CM’s family, after the rise of the ruling TMC in the state 2011 onwards, has amassed disproportionate assets in excess of Rs 200 crore, mainly through shady land deals in Kalighat and Harish Chatterjee Street area, where the CM stays with her family. As per reports, 17 plots in question are situated at a distance of 400 metres thereof.
Leaps and Bounds Pvt Ltd., a company floated by Abhishek Banerjee also has several allegations of involvement in shady deals. It was embroiled in controversy over receiving payments of Rs. 1.5 crore from realtor Rajkishore Modi, against whom Mamata Banerjee had led a protest when she was the Opposition leader. The address for Leaps and Bounds Pvt Ltd. is 30B Harish Chatterjee Street, which is the CM’s residence. BJP had questioned the role of now CM Mamata Banerjee in granting favours to this realtor, who is being probed for several criminal cases including the attempt to murder. BJP declared it as “an open-and-shut case of corruption and quid pro quo”.
BJP and Mamata Banerjee are locked in a bitter tussle ever since the West Bengal Chief Minister dramatically sat on a dharna in February this year to protest the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) bid to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with ‘Saradha’ and ‘Rose Valley’ chit-fund scams. Millions of depositors, mostly poor and lower middle-class people, were lured and swindled of their hard-earned money with the promise of very high returns in these ponzi scams. Sudipta Sen, the chairman of Saradha Group and Gautam Kundu, who headed the Rose Valley firm, both are alleged to be close to the ruling TMC in West Bengal. According to probe agencies, several politicians were bribed to let the scam function smoothly. Several top TMC leaders and ministers were arrested by the CBI for their alleged involvement in the scam.
In 2014, Narada sting operation, another scandal to hit TMC, showed around a dozen of their members, including ministers allegedly accepting bribes. Though the cash received by TMC leaders in Narada videos, about Rs 5 lakh each, maybe a small fraction compared to the multi-billion ‘Saradha’ and ‘Rose Valley’ scams, the leaders were caught cheating on camera and were greater in number. Moreover, opposition leaders have often cried foul regarding Mamata Banerjee’s painting exhibitions since 2004, the million dollar question is who bought these paintings and at what price, since the collections reportedly run into several crores.
PM Modi has often accused CM Mamata Banerjee of trying to protect those involved in the massive scams and warned that neither the perpetrators nor those shielding them will be spared. He asserted that ‘never in the history of our country have we seen a Chief Minister sitting on a dharna to save the corrupt. The poor want to know why did you sit on dharna to save those who are accused of negligence in probing the chit fund scam’. While addressing BJP rallies here, he declared that ‘this chowkidar (watchman) will not spare them. Whether it is the perpetrators or their protectors, nobody will be allowed to go scot free’.
On many occasions, PM Modi has claimed, “Whenever I come to West Bengal, TMC and especially “Speed Breaker Didi” get restless.” PM Modi has reiterated that “Gurudev Tagore dreamt of a Bengal where the mind is without fear and the head is held high but TMC’s Bengal is different. Infiltrators get easy entry, criminals get a free hand and corruption is rampant. BJP offers a change from the misrule of TMC.” Predicting the downfall of the TMC government in the next elections, he says “nobody dared to take on the TMC goons in the past. We are determined to rid Bengal of them. BJP workers are not afraid of anybody.”