Just 30 minutes before she was to address it, the United Kingdom's most prestigious debating society, the Oxford Union, called the office of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and cancelled the programme citing "circumstances".
Earlier in the day, Oxford Union had called to reschedule the event from 5 pm to 2.30 pm to which the Chief Minister agreed. The event was confirmed by Oxford Union in July.
The cancellation or rescheduling of the event came as a shock, evident from the Home Department of the state government tweeting about it and the CMO later sharing an email of apology sent by the president of Oxford Union. "It is incredibly unfortunate...However, nothing prevails over circumstances sometimes, it seems," it read.
There was no elaborating of the extenuating circumstances and sources in the Trinamool Congress are claiming that "tremendous pressure was put from the topmost levels on the organisers".
While Hon' ble Chief Minster of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, was scheduled to address the Oxford Union debating society today afternoon, the organizers have suddenly sought postponement and re- scheduling of the programme at the last moment!— HOME DEPARTMENT - GOVT. OF WEST BENGAL (@HomeBengal) December 2, 2020
Oxford Union has denied any such pressure.
Responding to an email from NDTV, the Union said, "There was no political pressure on the Union to cancel, whatsoever, and the postponement has nothing to do with politics. We hope to be able to rearrange the event at the Chief Minister's earliest convenience."
But party sources are seeing a pattern in sudden cancellations of Ms Banerjee's high-profile visits in recent years. In 2018, there was at least three such instances.
In June that year, Ms Banerjee was to travel to China but she cancelled at the last minute because "political meetings at appropriate level" could not be set up.
In August, she was to attend the 125the anniversary of Swami Vivekananda's historic address to the Parliament of World religions in Chicago. Last moment, hosts Vivekananda Vedanta Society cancelled, citing the death of a senior member in June and some "unforeseen difficulties".
Also that August, Ms Banerjee's address at St Stephen's College in Delhi was cancelled at short notice because of "inadequate infrastructure". MP Derek O'Brien was at that time quoted claiming the address was cancelled because of "pressure from a Union minister".
Had the Oxford Union address gone through, Ms Mamata Banerjee would have been the first Indian woman leader and administrative head to address the forum. Previous speakers include US presidents, British PMs as well as luminaries like Albert Einstein and Michael Jackson.