Mamata Banerjee was Thursday waging a hardy battle with the Modi government that demanded three of her IPS officers on central deputation against her will, and another with mutinous TMC leaders led by a regional satrap seeking to thwart her bid for a third term in office.
As the West Bengal chief minister was busy containing the fallout of an internecine feud in her TMC following a rebellion by a redoubtable Suvendu Adhikari, the Centre shot off a fresh letter to her government to immediately relieve three IPS officers for central deputation.
Suitably provoked, a combative Banerjee dubbed the move “unconstitutional and unacceptable” and a “brazen attempt to control the state machinery by proxy”, escalating tensions between the state and the Centre.
The Centre’s missive came on a day when Suvendu Adhikari, considered a leader with mass appeal that any TMC leader could have after Mamata, quit the party, amid intense speculation about his joining the BJP at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally in East Midnapore on Saturday.
Adhikari, the face of the Nandigram movement against the Left Front government’s land acquisition policy for rapid industrialisation, had aided Banerjee’s rise to power in 2011 when she decimated the Left and the Congress.
The assembly polls in 2016 were a breeze for the tempestuous leader, who now appears bracing for a storm.
Five days after the West Bengal government said it will not relieve the three IPS officers, the Centre sent a fresh missive on Thursday, asking the state to immediately release them so they could take up their new assignments.
In a communication to the West Bengal chief secretary, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said, according to the IPS cadre rules, the Centre prevails over a state government in case of any dispute between the two.
Quoting the rules, the MHA noted in case of any disagreement between the central and the state governments, the “state governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the central government”.
The three officers — Bholanath Pandey (SP, Diamond Harbour), Praveen Tripathi (DIG, Presidency Range) and Rajeev Mishra (ADG, South Bengal) — were responsible for the security of BJP chief J P Nadda during his December 9-10 visit to the politically volatile state.
The Centre wants them shifted account of alleged dereliction of duty that led to an attack on Nadda’s convoy in Diamond Harbour constituency of TMC MP and Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee. Several vehicles in the convoy were damaged and BJP leaders received injuries in the attack.
A livid Banerjee responded with expected anger.
“This move, particularly before the elections is against the basic tenets of the federal structure. It’s unconstitutional & completely unacceptable!” she said.
“GoI’s (Government of India) order of central deputation for the 3 serving IPS officers of West Bengal despite the State’s objection is a colourable exercise of power and blatant misuse of emergency provision of IPS Cadre Rule 1954,” Banerjee tweeted.
In its letter, the home ministry insisted that in accordance with the IPS cadre rules, the Centre prevails over the state in case of a dispute.
However, Banerjee recalcitrantly asserted in another tweet, “We wouldnt allow this brazen attempt by the Centre to control the State machinery by proxy! West Bengal is not going to cow-down in front of expansionist & undemocratic forces.”
Adhikari, a two-term MLA and twice Lok Sabha member, meanwhile, resigned from the primary membership of the party.
“I am writing to tender my resignation as a member of All India Trinamool Congress as well as from all other positions held by me in the party and its associate organs with immediate effect,” Adhikari wrote.
Ending his two-decade-old association with the party, the political heavyweight thanked Banerjee for opportunities she gave him, and said would he will always value the time he spent as its member.
Adhikari had resigned as a member of the Mamata Banerjee cabinet and from several other posts that he held last month.
A seasoned politician that he is, Adhikari delayed his resignation from the state assembly and the TMC, all the while testing the political waters.
On Wednesday night, he held a closed-door meeting with several disgruntled TMC leaders,including Asansol civic body chief Jitendra Tiwari and senior MP Sunil Mandal.
Tiwari, an MLA from Pandebeshwar constituency who recently slammed the state government for allegedly depriving the industrial town of central funds for “political reasons”, resigned as the chairman of the Board of Administrators of Asansol Municipal Corporation on Thursday afternoon.
Senior TMC leader Diptangshu Choudhary, who, too, was present at the meeting, has also quit as South Bengal State Transport Corporation chairman.
As an abrasive Banerjee claimed only those not wedded to TMC’s ideology and concerned about not getting party tickets were jumping the ship, the BJP claimed it was the “beginning of the end” for West Bengal’s ruling party which will now “collapse like a house of cards”.
Hailing Adhikari’s decision, BJP national vice president Mukul Roy claimed that “this is the beginning of the end of the ruling party which will now collapse like a house of cards”. “We will welcome Suvendu with open arms,” he said.
“The day Suvendu Adhikari resigned from the state cabinet, I had said I would be happy if he leaves the TMC and joins the BJP. Today, he has left the party. We will be happy to welcome him,” Roy said.
Adhikari’s father Sisir Adhikari and brother Dibyendu are sitting TMC MPs from Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha constituencies respectively. Another brother is an MLA and heads the local municipal body.
The family wields considerable influence over at least 40-45 assembly seats in Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram, parts of Birbhum — mainly in the Junglemahal region — and some areas in the Muslim-dominated Murshidabad district.