The way the utterly unnecessary and absolutely avoidable Bengal cyclone Yaas review meeting row refuses to die down indicate towards very disturbing trend of administration of the federal India.
This speaks too poorly about our capability, wisdom and willingness to keep aside politics in purely administrative issues and that too in time of a crisis. Constitutionally speaking the country is supposed to be, in its very existence, ‘a union of states’ and a character that remains the essence of our basic composition.
The Prime Minister, keeping aside his all-scheduled programs and appointments, rushes to take stock of the calamity and schedules the urgent meeting with a Chief Minister within the territory of her state and the Chief Minister does not have the time to receive the top most executive of the country, keeps the Prime Minister waiting for the meet making one of the PM Team officials to remind her Chief Secretary to make the Chief Minister come around only to intimate of her ‘many pre-scheduled programs’ and skip the meeting altogether which was specially arranged for her. This itself shows the naked disregard to the established administrative rules of minimum protocol and discipline. This cannot be imagined whatever be the other external circumstances and situations. The Chief Minister also fails to have the customary decency and dignity of playing the host to the top dignitary of the country.
It would have been the very routine and usual behavior of the Chief Minister to receive the Prime Minister, take him to the venue, attend the meeting and remain with the PM-Team till they leave her state. There cannot be anything to explain if any of these common courtesies are not extended to the visiting Prime Minister. It has, therefore, been very aptly summarized by PMO officials that ‘never before in the history of Indian Republic has a Chief Minister of a state behaved in such an ugly, disrespectful and arrogant manner.’
There has been a long explanation, in the form of allegations rather, by Mamata Banerjee as rebuttal of the facts made out by PM-Team from not being allowed to land in time to make her wait for more than 30 minutes to locus standi of governor and leader of opposition having been made participants of the meeting to her wish to have a ‘quiet word’ in ‘a meeting between the PM and CM as usual’.
But the explanation itself was not usual, it could not have been usual either. And the intent becomes clear when her MPs go on to justify what she did, going to the extent to suggesting it was not at all a big deal if the Prime Minister and his team was made to wait for the CM and Co.
It is of too late now that the West Bengal govt is seen disregarding, ignoring and undermining the center. There have been several instances of West Bengal administration not adhering to the usual administrative protocol of All India services and the Chief Minister has been seen putting state officials in confrontation with that of the center. Many center teams, including that of disaster management and of investigating agencies, were ignored, demeaned, not allowed to do their jobs and/or even forcefully prevented to perform their duties and humiliated them at the state.
It is not for the first time in the history that West Bengal has a different political party to rule it than that of the center. From Jyoti Basu till date the state has a totally different administration which, many a times, has been very much hostile to the center. Therefore, West Bengal civil servants have a long history of dealing with a hostile center. So is the case of the center civil servants dealing with West Bengal administration. There also have been serious differences, rather contradictions and even stalemates at times between them. But rarely any protocol has been broken, discipline undermined and mutual courtesies compromised. Mamata has made a dangerous trend of colliding with the center at the administrative level diminishing the line between politics and administration.
The govt at the center has learnt too well to deal too nicely and smoothly with different, at times hostile, political dispensations at different states. This is not only basic tenet of our constitution but also the minimum working requirement of any federal state. Despite intense political fights we have, for long, learnt to have a coherent administrative set up functioning without any practical hassle. Even today so many states have non-BJP govt being at political battles all along but do function well commensurate with usual administrative decency and discipline. Why then West Bengal should be the only exception?
Given the fact we have a long time Chief Minister as the Prime Minister having the crudest of experience of an unfriendly center for years together who never, however, forgot to mention explicitly the co-operation he got from individual ministers of Dr Singh’s govt. The center too, despite being bitter to him, never blocked any required assistance to Gujarat. There could, therefore, be no Prime Minister better than Narendra Modi to understand, respect and adhere to the federal principles of administration. Both before and after becoming the Prime Minister he has been a strong practicing advocate of federal working of center-state govts.
Mamata Banerjee has always been a practicener of arrogant, aggressive and ignorant politics. Be it within Congress, with NDA or out of it, she practiced the politics of an uncompromising dissenter and a stubborn character – this suited her political journey at the state given the deep societal communist infusion during the long left-regime. But she has never been an accepted personality at any political combination, leaders across party always have an ambivalent attitude towards her. It was due to the very personal charisma of Vajpayee which could made her amenable to NDA. Years of power has made her more arrogant and rigid.
The mandate of Bengal has largely been misunderstood – more than Mamata’s victory it has been termed and explained repeatedly as Narendra Modi’s defeat. It is simply not so. The mandate is in favor of both – Mamata to rule the state and BJP the only other political force capable to take over. Complete elimination of all others indicates unequivocally towards this only. Mamata, however, takes the mandate a decree to take head on with the center and Narendra Modi in particular. This always kills a politician.
There are a whole group of Narendra Modi’s contemporary Chief Ministers who just refuse to accept that there is hardly anything special in Narendra Modi which makes him above them. Mamata is one prominent among them. She is very free to have her views and believe them too. But she has to accept the responsibility of the chair she holds towards the institution of the Prime Minister. Democratic set-ups run on this principle all over world.
Our constitutional system is largely tilted towards unitary features – the all India civil and judicial services are clear indicatives of this spirit. But even in the US where there is clear division of powers the state governors do adhere to the strict protocol while dealing with the White House. During the pandemic, during natural catastrophe and for that matter any national crisis our system has the elasticity to convert itself into a unified administrative unit. This is beauty of our system the leaders must appreciate and adhere to.
The political leaders are required to possess the ability to convert themselves to a fine-tuned administrative institution from crude politicians as soon as they come to hold the offices. Mamata Banerjee has not learnt this lesson. In that case, the canter has the responsibility, accountability as also the constitutional and political mandate to ensure the lesson is taught to her!
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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