West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government a day after a bitter face-off over a meeting to review the damage from Cyclone Yaas, accusing his office of feeding “fake, one-sided, partisan news” to the media.
“Don’t insult me like this. We have got a landslide victory, is that why you are behaving like this? You tried everything and lost. Why are you quarrelling with us every day?” Ms Banerjee said at a news conference “to set things straight”.
Her outburst came after the centre ordered her top bureaucrat to return to Delhi, sources in the central government told reporters that Ms Banerjee had “skipped” a meeting led by the Prime Minister, and photos showing her vacant seat were plastered on social media by BJP leaders.
Ms Banerjee had a quick 15-minute interaction with him at an airbase where his flight landed and did not attend the review meeting, the government had said.
The Chief Minister said she had to visit a coastal district – plans that were announced earlier – and so she asked the PM’s permission before leaving.
“I had made plans to visit cyclone-hit areas. I had to travel to Sagar and Digha to see the damage caused by Cyclone Yaas. All my plans were made and ready… then suddenly we get a call that Prime Minister wants to visit Bengal to assess the situation after the cyclone,” Ms Banerjee said.
She also alleged that the Prime Minister had called the meeting only to settle political scores and invited the opposition, which includes his party BJP, and her bete noire, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar – a departure from the similar cyclone review meetings he had held in Odisha and Gujarat recently.
Ms Banerjee contested the central government’s claim that she made the Prime Minister and governor wait for 30 minutes, saying it was she who had to wait for PM Modi at the tarmac for 20 minutes.
“By the time were reached the place where the PM-CM meeting was to be held, we found out that the PM had already arrived there some time ago and that there was a meeting going on. We were asked to wait outside, told that there will be no entry at the moment because a meeting is going on. We waited patiently for a while. Then, when we asked again, we were told that no one can enter for the next one hour,” she said.
“Then someone told us that the meeting has moved to the conference hall, so the Chief Secretary and I decided to go there. When we reached there, we saw the PM was in a meeting with the Honourable Governor, central leaders and even some MLAs of the opposition party,” Ms Banerjee said.
“This was clearly against the brief. It was supposed to be only a PM-CM meeting. So, we decided to submit our report to the PM and then with the Prime Minister’s permission we went to Digha. I sought the Prime Minister’s permission three times,” she said.
Ms Banerjee said she was “willing to touch the Prime Minister’s feet if it soothed his ego” because she wanted what was best for the people of Bengal. She requested him to withdraw the transfer orders for the Chief Secretary and called it an insult of bureaucrats across the country.
The encounter between PM Modi and Ms Banerjee on Friday was their first since the April-May assembly election that the Chief Minister’s Trinamool Congress party won, despite a no-holds-barred campaign marked by extensive poaching and coarse rhetoric.
Ties between the two sides have been icy since long before the elections, with the Trinamool government accusing the centre of withholding funds owed to the state and the BJP stoking a communal divide, while the BJP has blamed Ms Banerjee’s party of political violence.