West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday that her government “cannot release, and is not releasing, its Chief Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay at this critical hour”, pointing out that the top bureaucrat, who was due to retire today, has been given a three-month extension to help manage the cyclone and covid situation in the state.
Staging a battle against the Union government over a bureaucrat is not new for the CM, and also not without a reason, say Trinamool leaders.
In 2019 February, Banerjee organised a sit-in demonstration after CBI officers went to Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s residence to interrogate him in Sarada chit fund case. Banerjee backed Kumar to the hilt and even reinstated him after she swept the recently concluded assembly polls in Bengal.
During her 10 years as the CM, she had often refused to send IAS or IPS officers on deputation, citing shortage of civil servants in her state. On one occasion, Banerjee even furnished data to show several posts for civil servants lying vacant and wanted the Centre not to call bureaucrats for central positings.
But the two incidents—over Rajeev Kumar and Alapan Bandopadhyay—underline Banerjee’s staunch support for key bureaucrats (both are considered professionally very close to the CM) as well as trying to assert her authority on all matters related to Bengal.
Saugata Ray, former UPA minister and Trinamool MP, said, “The CM must have control over the administration. Otherwise, how would she run the government? Her decision to defy the Centre’s directive in the case of Alapan shows that she wants to run the state with political as well as administrative authority.”
Also Read | In Bengal, a political battle over cyclone relief erupts, again
Trinamool Congress leaders maintain that Mamata wants to turn this into an issue of federalism and an avenue of attack against PM Modi. “Rajeev Kumar and Alapan Bandopadhyay’s cases are completely different. Rajev was facing charges. But Banerjee stood for both of them. This is her way to assert her position,” said a leader.
Banerjee has also made Bandopadhyay’s tranfer row into a political battle, an area where she is more comfortable to take on the mighty Centre. At a press conference, she attacked the NDA brass for taking revenge for the loss in West Bengal polls and even wondered if Bandopadhyay is being harassed for being a Bengali.
Bandopadhyay found himself in the centre of a political storm after the BJP alleged that Banerjee deliberately kept the PM waiting and later didn’t attend a review meeting chaired by Modi in Bengal. Banerjee rejected the allegations and said she wanted to meet the PM exclusively, but no time was allotted. After the Centre recalled Bandopadhyay and asked him to report to Department of Personnel and Training, Banerjee backed him and refused to adhere to Centre’s directive.