- Government sources tore into Mamata Banerjee's account of the incident
- PM never gave permission to her to leave the review meeting, sources said
- Ms Banerjee has repeatedly alleged that she waited to meet the PM
Mamata Banerjee has given "entirely false statements" and she "boycotted" a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after agreeing to attend it, the centre said on Tuesday in its second rebuttal in its increasingly bitter back-and-forth with the Bengal Chief Minister.
In a nine-point rejoinder, government sources tore into Mamata Banerjee's account of what went down on Friday, when she briefly met with PM Modi at Kalaikunda air base during his visit to Bengal and left without attending his Cyclone Yaas review meeting.
The Chief Minister has said she had another scheduled meeting and that she had asked the PM's permission before leaving.
PM Modi never gave permission to Mamata Banerjee to leave the review meeting as she claims, government sources said on Tuesday.
To her claim about being informed belatedly about the Prime Minister's schedule, the sources commented that a meeting to assess cyclone damage could hardly be finalised "before the cyclone comes".
Ms Banerjee's allegation that she was forced to wait for the PM was also rejected by government sources. On Ms Banerjee saying she had to wait for 20 minutes and her chopper had to hover because the PM's chopper was to land, the sources said she should have come in advance, "as everyone does when PM is supposed to land at any airport".
"PM landed at Kalaikunda at 1.59 pm. Mamata Banerjee landed at Kalaikunda after the PM at 2.10 pm. It is clear that PM was kept waiting for Mamata Banerjee as he landed much before her. This was also confirmed by a TMC MP who tweeted that there was no big deal in the PM being kept waiting," said government sources.
After her chopper landed at the air base, the Chief Minister reached the building where the meeting was to take place, around 500 metres away. "After meeting the PM, she departed for her next journey at 2.35 pm. So in effect, she travelled 500 metres to and fro, met PM and departed in 25 minutes. She left before the PM left, which is clearly contrary to accepted practices and protocol. It is clear that Mamata Banerjee's statement of being made to wait is entirely false and that she made the PM wait," government sources said.
The sources also said Mamata Banerjee had agreed to attend the PM's review but had changed her mind after learning that her former aide-turned-BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari, who is the state's Leader of Opposition, would be in the meeting. Suvendu Adhikari's defection to the BJP, just months before the Bengal polls, was seen as a huge loss for Ms Banerjee. Her landslide victory in polls was also dimmed by her defeat to Mr Adhikari in Nandigram, which means she has to win bypolls to keep the top job.
"Mamata Banerjee chose to boycott the review meeting because the Leader of Opposition of WB was present. No issue was created by government on this, because what mattered was Cyclone relief activities. It was suggested to her that PM will meet her immediately after the review meeting as that was the reason for which he traveled to West Bengal. Sensing that she may have to wait till the review meeting gets over, she chose to prevent other officers too from attending the meeting and in effect cancelled the review meeting scheduled by the Prime Minister," the sources alleged.
The Centre also defended its moves against Alapan Bandyopadhyay, then Chief Secretary of Bengal, who was ordered to report to Delhi after the meeting controversy. Ms Banerjee called the recall order unconstitutional and alleged that the Centre was behaving like "Hitler and Stalin".
"The order is perfectly constitutional since Chief Secretary is an All India Services officer. He chose to ignore his constitutional duties, as a result of which no presentation was given to PM and no officer of the West Bengal government attended the PM's review meeting," sources said.
Mr Bandyopadhyay, instead of going to Delhi, retired on Monday and was immediately appointed Chief Adviser to the Chief Minister.
Government sources said his retirement showed that Mamata Banerjee was on the backfoot. "She knows that facts of the matter are against the Chief Secretary and his behaviour was such that it will invite strict disciplinary action... All India officers are not expected to be part of politics. Mamata knows all this and his retirement is a last bid to save him," they said.
Ms Banerjee's objection to Mr Adhikari's presence was also dismissed by the Centre, which said, "There have been numerous meetings in the past in non-BJP ruled states where representatives of other parties have been present".