Bengal's top officer Alapan Bandyopadhyay retired as Chief Secretary on Monday instead of reporting to the Centre, in a dramatic escalation of Mamata Banerjee's feud with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr Bandyopadhyay is now Chief Adviser to the Bengal government but that may not protect him from the Centre's displeasure.
He will face a charge-sheet and action for defying orders, said central government sources. A show-cause notice has been issued to Mr Bandyopadhyay for his absence from the Cyclone Yaas review meet chaired by the PM.
"The Chief Secretary was called by an official as to whether they wanted to participate in the review meeting or not. Thereafter, he arrived along with Chief Minister inside the meeting room and left immediately," the government said in its show-cause notice.
He has been asked to respond to the notice within three days.
HK Dwivedi has taken over as the new Bengal Chief Secretary.
Mamata Banerjee had written to PM Modi that she would not accept Mr Bandyopadhyay's transfer to Delhi at a time he was handling the state's Covid crisis. The Centre's recall order came on Friday, hours after the Chief Minister skipped a Cyclone Yaas review meeting with PM Modi on Friday.
The Centre responded to this morning's letter by insisting that he has to report to Delhi.
"This is vendetta. I have never seen such a heartless Prime Minister. Just because they want to attack the Chief Minister, they attack the Chief Secretary. You have added insult to injury. There is no consultation. Why? Because you lost? Because you don't like Mamata Banerjee. The Centre may not be aware that he has superannuated and his services are not available for the Centre. I have decided we need his service for the Covid pandemic. For Covid and for Cyclone Yaas, he must continue his service to the poor, the state, the country, the affected people..." the Chief Minister said.
She accused PM Modi of treating bureaucrats like bonded labourers. "If a bureaucrat is insulted after he has dedicated his life to his work, what message is the government and PM sending out? There are many Bengali cadre officers at the Centre. Can I recall them without consultation, Mr Prime Minister? Mr Busy Prime Minister? Mr Mann-ki-baat Prime Minister?"
The furious Chief Minister declared: "You want to scare the bureaucracy. We are not scared. I am not scared of you. Those who are afraid crumble. We fight and we win."
Mr Bandyopadhyay had recently been granted a three-month extension in Bengal on Ms Banerjee's request.
That changed after the Chief Minister's perceived snub to PM Modi on Friday. She met with the Prime Minister briefly after his helicopter landed at the Kalaikunda air base in Bengal and left for another meeting. Top central government sources called her "petulant" and said "never before in the history of the Indian Republic has a Chief Minister of a state behaved in such an ugly, disrespectful and arrogant manner" with a Prime Minister.
The BJP in Bengal said Ms Banerjee had made "a mountain of a routine transfer" by the Centre. Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh accused the Chief Minister of "doing politics in a crisis".
This is the latest in Ms Banerjee's bitter and unabated run-ins with the Centre after she won a landslide victory in the Bengal election, fighting off a tough challenge from the BJP.