Only six chief ministers will take part in a video call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus outbreak in the country and the way forward after the current phase of the lockdown ends on June 30.
Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee will not be among those six, despite the state having figured on the schedule released by the Prime Minister’s Office last week.
The earlier agenda had listed 15 states – the ones most badly hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. A truncated list was circulated Monday, in which Bengal was missing.
This last-minute revision has angered Ms Banerjee, something made clear by tweets from senior Trinamool Congress who attacked the centre for throttling democracy and stifling the Bengal Chief Minister’s voice.
Ms Banerjee herself has yet to respond to the attack by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in last week’s virtual rally, at which he taunted the Chief Minister, saying: “The name ‘Corona Express’ that you have given, Mamata didi, will become your exit route”.
“Why would you call our honourable Chief Minister for a VC (video conference) if you fear her so much that you can’t even let her speak?” Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, the Lok Sabha MP from Barasat, said.
Dinesh Trivedi, a Rajya Sabha MP from the state, said the centre was so wary of Ms Banerjee’s “constructive criticism on COVID-19 response that our honourable Chief Minister has been reduced to a mute spectator for the latest round of VCs”.
“People of Bengal won’t forgive this,” he added.
Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said the centre was trying to throttle democracy.
Sources said Ms Banerjee, who has waged a long-running battle with the centre over several issues, including Bengal’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, now may not even attend the meeting.
A representative may be deputed instead.
Wednesday’s video conference will be the seventh time PM Modi has interacted with chief ministers over the coronavirus crisis; the sixth was Tuesday when he spoke with leaders from 20 states.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting the PM praised centre-state co-operation, saying: “In the future when India will study the fight against Corona, this period will also be remembered for how we worked together during this time, presenting the best example of cooperative federalism“.
This is not the first time a frosty stand-off has emerged between Mamata Banerjee and the centre over video conferences.
On April 27, Ms Banerjee was not on a list of speakers scheduled to interact with PM Modi. She hinted that she could skip the meeting but did, eventually, attend.
On May 11 she attended and hit out at the centre for playing politics over the coronavirus, discriminating against Bengal and “not consulting with states but only imposing decisions”.
India has seen a worrying surge in coronavirus cases over the past days; there are now 3.43 lakh cases with 10,667 new infections in the past 24 hours, government data showed Tuesday morning.
Bengal has 11,494 cases (of which 5,515 are active) and has reported 485 deaths.
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