- The state's top bureaucrat was to report to Delhi today
- Recall order came hours after Mamata Banerjee skipped PM's meet
- In her letter, Ms Banerjee termed the order "legally untenable"
Mamata Banerjee today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that she was "shocked and stunned" by what she called a "unilateral order" asking Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay to report to the Centre and made it clear that she would not let him go in the middle of her state's Covid fight.
"The government of Bengal cannot release, and is not releasing, its Chief Secretary at this critical hour, on the basis of our understanding that the earlier order of extension, issued after lawful consultation in accordance with applicable laws, remains operational and valid," the Chief Minister wrote in the letter.
"I am sure you will not inflict further suffering on the people of this state by taking away the services of an experienced officer, suddenly without any consultation and with no prior notice, whose continued presence in my state in these difficult times was accepted to be vital and necessary by your government four days back."
Mamata Banerjee said in the letter that Mr Bandyopadhyay had suffered "major personal bereavements very recently" and also referred to another previous order extending his term in Bengal by three months on account of the Covid surge in the state.
The Chief Secretary was ordered to report to the Centre at 10 am today in a recall order issued hours after Mamata Banerjee skipped a Cyclone Yaas review meeting with PM Modi.
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.
Calling the Centre's order "legally untenable, historically unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional," Ms Banerjee questioned, "Does it have anything to do with our meeting at Kalaikunda?".
If that was the case, Ms Banerjee wrote, it would be "sad, unfortunate and would amount to sacrificing public interest at the altar of misplaced priorities."
She went on to detail what went wrong that day after she "rescheduled everything to rush to Kalaikunda" to meet with the PM.
The presence of her former aide-turned-BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari at the meeting was "unacceptable", she emphasized.
She said she had been "detained" at one point and flight permissions were delayed to make room for the Prime Minister's arrival, but she reached Kalaikunda before time for "a meaningful discussion" on cyclone damage and relief. "Meanwhile", she said, one of her ministers had received PM Modi; top government sources had on Friday taken it as a huge insult that the Chief Minister kept PM Modi waiting at the air base and did not receive him personally.
"I wanted to have a quiet word with you, a meeting between the Prime Minister and Chief Minister as usual," Ms Banerjee said.
"You however revised the structure of the meeting to include a local MLA from your party and I am on the view (based on my knowledge of the affairs of the state for about 40 years) that he had no locus to be present at a PM-CM meeting," said the Chief Minister, not naming Suvendu Adhikari.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had no role in the meeting either, she added.
The Chief Secretary had repeatedly sent messages to the central team but nothing was done on Suvendu Adhikari, said Ms Banerjee.
"Finally, keeping aside my legitimate reservations, I entered the meeting with the Chief Secretary of my state to hand over the report to you. You personally took the report from my hand, and then I specifically and expressly sought permission from you for us to leave for Digha, our next cyclone-ravaged destination, where a meeting was due and participants were waiting. You expressly permitted us to take our leave," she wrote.
Then, she added, came the "bolt from the blue" in the form of the recall order that she said was a decision taken with "malafide intention and in hot haste".
"I therefore humbly request you to withdraw, recall, reconsider your decision and rescind the latest so-called order in larger public interest," the letter said.